Part of the fun of a road trip is stopping to see and do things along the way — like aviation museums, for example. Since airplanes aren’t exactly small, these museums generally need a lot of space — and since space is at a premium in downtown urban areas, these museums are usually located well outside the city center. Many are even located at or near second tier airports. All of which makes them an excellent choice for road trippers. With that in mind, here are three wheelchair-accessible aviation museums located along popular road trip routes.
Planes of Fame Air Museum
If a Grand Canyon (barrierfreegrandcanyon.com) road trip is in your future, then make sure and stop at the Planes of Fame Air Museum, in nearby Valle Airport. This small town is located midway between Winslow and Tusayan at the intersection of highways 64 and 180, and it’s the perfect spot to stop, get some gas, and check out this interesting aviation museum.
The brainchild of Ed Maloney, this museum opened in 1995, when his California location was literally bursting at the seams. Today this second museum, which is based at the Valle Airport, houses nearly 40 aircraft, and includes a variety of historical displays.
Located, across from the operations building, this vintage aircraft museum features accessible parking in front with barrier-free access over to the museum, The museum is located in a large hangar, which features level cement floors and barrier-free pathways to most of the exhibits. This unique collection features everything from a Nazi Messerschmitt BF-109 to a Stearman PT-17.
There are also display cases filled with aircraft parts, equipment, patches, models and even a bomb sight. Top it off with some airline memorabilia, a bevy of vintage photos, a B-17 instrument panel, and a mock-up of a Vietnam-era military command post, and you have a little something for everyone. Additionally there’s a bone yard out back, and even though the ground is covered in gravel, you can still get a good gander at it from the back door.
Aviation Museum of Kentucky
Located behind the Bluegrass Airport, this aviation museum makes a good stop along the Bourbon Trail (emerginghorizons.com/whiskey-wine-and-shine-tasting-in-the-heart-of-kentucky). With a whopping 25,000 square feet of exhibit space, split between two hangars, the museum houses an impressive aircraft collection, and includes historic photographs and exhibits about the aviation industry.
Accessible parking is located in front of the museum, with level access through automatic doors to the gift shop. Accessible restrooms are located down the hall, and there’s barrier-free access out to the hangars where the aircraft are displayed.
All of the aircraft in the collection have some sort of Kentucky connection. For example the A-4 Skyhawk — which was first used in Vietnam — was subsequently flown by Blue Angel pilots, like Lexington native Mike Nord. And the AH-1 Cobra Helicopter was once stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Round it out with exhibits about women in aviation, the Doolittle Raid in WWII, the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, and Matthew Sellers’ Quadraplane — the first powered flight in Kentucky — and you have a comprehensive look at the Commonwealth’s aviation history.
And don’t miss the Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame, which is located between the hangars. New inductees are added yearly, but current honorees include everyone from WASPS and astronauts, to instructors, statesman and even spies. There are truly some interesting — and inspirational — stories there.
Castle Air Museum
Last but certainly not least, this massive air museum in a must-stop on any Central California trek. Located on a former Air Force base, Castle Air Museum is just a few miles off Highway 99, and about two hours south of Sacramento. The aircraft collection is housed on 25 acres, and includes everything from pre-WWII aircraft to modern day fighters.
Accessible parking is located near the entrance, with ramp access over to the gift shop. There are accessible restrooms next to the gift shop, and another set is located outside near the General Dynamics FB-111 Aardvark. There’s ramp access to the outdoor museum from the gift shop, and a level asphalt pathway winds around the aircraft collection. It should also be noted that there’s very little shade cover in this area, so go early in the day or remember to bring a hat.
This aviation museum features one of the most complete bomber collections on the west coast, and includes gems like a Douglas B-29 Superfortress — Raz’n Hell — which was used near the end of WWII and during the Korean War. Virgin’s Delight — a Boeing B-17G used in the 1930s — is also on display. And don’t miss the larger than life B-52D Stratofortress, which entered service in 1955 and was stationed at Castle Air Force Base. All in all there are 70 aircraft in the collection, but look for it to grow, as a MIG-17 and a C-130A are currently undergoing restoration.
There’s also ramp access to the indoor museum which offers an overview of the history of Castle Air Force Base, and includes vintage uniforms, equipment, photographs and even a B-52 cockpit. And don’t miss the photo op of the Douglas VC-9C out front, which once served as Air Force One for President Reagan and President Clinton.