The National Museum of the United States Air Force, located in Dayton, Ohio, began with a collection of items not needed by the Smithsonian. Today, the museum's military aviation collection is one of the world's best.
The National Museum of the United States Air Force got its start in 1923 as a small exhibit of World War I aircraft at Dayton's McCook Field. When Wright Field opened a few years later, the museum moved to this new aviation research center. Initially housed in a lab building, the museum moved to its first permanent home, built by the Works Progress Administration, in 1935. After the U.S. was drawn into World War II, the museum's collection was put into storage so that its building could be used for wartime purposes.
When World War II ended, the Smithsonian Institution began collecting aircraft for its new National Aviation Museum (now the National Air and Space Museum.) The U.S. Air Force had aircraft and equipment that the Smithsonian did not need for its collections, so the Air Force Museum was re-established in 1947 and opened to the general public in 1955.
A new museum building opened in 1971, allowing the staff to move the aircraft and exhibits into an air-conditioned, fireproof space for the first time since the pre-war years. Additional buildings have been added on a regular basis, and the National Museum of the United States Air Force now boasts 19 acres of indoor exhibit space, a memorial park, visitor reception center, and an IMAX Theatre.
The museum's galleries are arranged in chronological order. The Early Years Gallery features airplanes and exhibits from the dawn of aviation through World War I. The Air Power Gallery focuses on World War II aviation, while the Modern Flight Gallery covers the Korean War and the Southeast Asia (Vietnam) conflict. The Eugene W. Kettering Cold War Gallery and the Missile and Space Gallery take visitors from the Soviet era to the cutting edge of space exploration.
In June 2016, the Presidential, Research and Development and Global Reach Galleries opened to the public. Exhibits include four presidential aircraft and the world's only remaining XB-70A Valkyrie.
Visitors especially enjoy seeing the museum's unique and historically significant airplanes. Aircraft on display include a B-52, the only B-2 Stealth bomber on display in the world, a Japanese Zero, a Soviet MiG-15, and the U-2 and SR-71 surveillance airplanes.
Tours and Special Events
Free, guided tours of the museum are offered daily at several different times. Each tour covers part of the museum. Visitors do not need to register for these tours.
Free Behind-the-Scenes Tours are available on the first and third Friday of each month from 1 p.m.–3 p.m. in the Space STEM Learning Node located in Building 4. This tour takes you to the museum's aircraft restoration area.
The National Museum of the United States Air Force hosts over 800 special programs and events each year. Programs include home school days, family days and lectures. A wide variety of special events, including concerts, model airplane shows, fly-ins, and reunions, take place at the museum.
Plan Your Visit
You'll find the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on 1100 Spaatz Street. You do not need a military ID card to drive onto the museum complex. Admission and parking are free, but there is a separate charge for the IMAX Theatre and flight simulator.
The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.
Some wheelchairs and motorized scooters are available for visitors' use, but the museum recommends that you bring your own. Touch tours and guided tours for hearing-impaired visitors are available by prior appointment; call at least three weeks before you plan to visit. The museum's floors are made of concrete, so wear comfortable walking shoes.
The museum complex includes a Memorial Park, gift shop, and two cafés.