“See, this is the kind of airplane I flew in during the war.” The slightly built, graying man addressed a rowdy youngster who was bouncing around the interior of the Fairchild C-119 “Flying Boxcar.”
The boy stopped and looked around with a new perspective.
“Wow, Grandpa, that’s cool!” he replied, awestruck. He reached out and touched the bulkhead with reverence.
That vignette summarizes the biggest gift offered by the Aerospace Museum of California. By bringing history out of the book and into three-dimensional reality, the museum connects those who lived the past with those who must not be allowed to forget it.
The former McClellan Air Force Base on the northeast outskirts of Sacramento converted to private industry when it was officially closed in 2001. The Aerospace Museum of California moved to its current site at McClellan in 2007. In addition to the Hardie Setzer Pavilion with the beautifully restored Curtiss-Wright B-14-B “Speedwing” bi-plane built in 1932 and myriad other offerings, the facility boasts an “open to the sky” Air Park displaying most of its aircraft.
The Air Park
In addition to a sleek McDonnell-Douglas A-4C “Skyhawk I” used by the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels and a Lockheed T-33A “T-Bird” which functioned as the U.S. Air Force’s first generation of jet trainers, you’ll find aircraft representative of the whole history of aviation. Props, jets, helicopters and amphibious craft find parking space around the Air Park.
Part of the fun lies in the names of some of the planes: a Fishbed shares the tarmac with a Falcon and an Albatross. The Jolly Green Giant looks out upon a Flying Boxcar. You’ll find a Warthog, an Aardvark and a Grasshopper. The fighting names show up there, too: several types of Sabre, a Skytrooper, Warning Star and Delta Dagger, to name a few. And that doesn’t count the pet names the crews assigned.
For aviation aficionados, the Museum provides a chance to get close to planes they only may have been able to read about until now. A Crew Chief oversees the restoration and care of the plane and opens the aircraft while on duty. Questions about the craft, its heritage and use and how this particular specimen came to the museum prompt knowledgeable answers from the volunteers, many of whom served in planes of the type they now maintain.
History buffs will find artifacts recounting the role of aircraft throughout recent history. A Norden bombsight, used in World War II, takes its place along with airplane motors and displays of major milestones in aviation. The chance to speak with volunteers who experienced the milestones provides an added bonus.
Art lovers can enjoy the collection of action art from the U.S. Coast Guard. Paintings show the aircraft of the USCG as they perform their protective and rescue functions.
Special exhibits rotate through the museum as well. The Da Vinci Experience and a Star Trek exhibit represent the historical spectrum of information making a stop at the Aerospace Museum.
A video presentation near the exit to the Air Park looks at the space program and where it may be heading. The small venue provides seating for those needing a moment to rest while they enjoy the video.
For the daring, the Morphis Motion Ride Simulator allows a first-hand taste of the chosen flight experience.
A gift shop provides resources for visitors to purchase a souvenir of the trip or research materials for further investigation.
With its ever-evolving contents, the Aerospace Museum of California merits repeat visits.
The museum works with schools and teachers to provide materials to support field trips and educational sessions at the museum. Links on the museum website allow teachers to begin before the visit and follow up afterwards.
The Aerospace Museum of California
3200 Freedom Park Drive
McClellan, CA 95652
Admission to the museum only is $5.00 per person. Some exhibits, like the Morphis Simulator, carry an additional fee. Special events, such as Star Trek, have a higher price which includes access to the museum as well. Hours vary seasonally, so call ahead.
The Aerospace Museum of California: http://www.aerospacemuseumofcalifornia.org/
Visits to Museum June 22, 2010 and July 13, 2010