Discover the heritage of aviation at Mid-Atlantic attractions

Reed Hellman

In the Mid-Atlantic, opportunities to explore the story of flight — and even try it — surround us. Choose the experience — or experiences — that elevate you and help your imagination take flight. From the dawn of powered flight to launches into outer space, our region has been one of the incubators of humans’ quest to fly.

The opening of a new museum building, the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum in Lexington Park, Md., will bring up-to-the-minute presentation technology and interactive exhibit features to focus on the roles that research, development, and testing have played in the evolution of U.S. Naval Aviation. The new structure, part of an integrated museum complex located just outside the gates of Naval Air Station Patuxent River, is dedicated to “… inspiring curiosity and ensuring that the legacy of Naval Aviation flight testing is preserved.”

You can see important Navy planes along the flight line at PAX River Naval Air Museum.
You can see important Navy planes along the flight line at PAX River Naval Air Museum.

“We are opening in three phases. This first phase focuses on the new main building that will also house the St. Mary’s County Visitors Center,” said the museum’s Pete Butt. “We’ve got about 30 planes on display, but these are not just any old airplanes. Each has a unique story … about what it was used for in testing.”

The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum, located on the grounds of the Reading, Pa., Regional Airport, also tells the story of warplanes, ideas, patriotism, and the people who made aviation a part of the region’s story.

The 26th annual World War II Weekend air show, June 3–5, will feature reenactors, 200 WWII vehicles, vintage bombers and fighters, and even an authentic WWII paratroop drop.

“It’s all to honor the WWII veterans,” said MAAM’s Russ Strine. “It’s a great history lesson for the kids and an air show combined. It’s a one-of-a-kind event. You walk in the gate and you walk back into the 1940s.”

These two major spring events highlight that heritage, but nearly 20 museums and experiences preserve it for all of us. In addition, there are many air shows at locations throughout the region.

 

PENNSYLVANIA

American Helicopter Museum Center, West Chester

610-436-9600

The museum collects, preserves, researches, publishes, and exhibits objects, artifacts, and documents about the origins and development of rotary-wing aircraft. The FatherFest, on June 19, is a great way to celebrate dad with a helicopter ride.

Flight 93 National Memorial, Shanksville

16-05 aviation Pax Attack“A common field one day. A field of honor forever.” The memorial honors the sacrifice of the 50 passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93, who gave their lives on 9/11 to stop terrorists attempting to crash the plane into the U.S. Capitol.

 

Mid-Atlantic Air Museum, Reading

610-372-7333

Guided tours lasting about 90 minutes are available, and you can see some of the restoration projects that are underway.

Piper Aviation Museum, Lock Haven

570-748-8283

Dedicated to preserving the history of Piper Aircraft, maker of the renowned “Cub” and a series of other smaller aircraft, the museum displays numerous artifacts and archives for public viewing. The Piper Aviation Museum also hosts “Sentimental Journey,” an annual fly-in event at the adjacent William T. Piper Memorial Airport, and other special events.

Wings of Freedom Aviation Museum, Horsham

215-672-2277

Nearly 40 exhibits that contain an assortment of artifacts, ranging from vintage aviation flight gear to air missiles. Seventeen aircraft are on display inside the museum and in the outdoor display area.

DELAWARE

Dover Air Mobility Command Museum, Dover AFB

302-677-5938

A stunning array of military workhorse aircraft. The free museum houses more than 30 cargo haulers, fighters, helicopters, a bomber, and a plane that served vice presidents, first ladies, and even presidents on occasion.

MARYLAND

College Park Aviation Museum, College Park

301-864-6029

The Wright brothers started it all at Kitty Hawk, and they also founded, in College Park, the world’s first airport, initially constructed to give flying lessons to three Signal Corps lieutenants who were the first military pilots. “This is the oldest continuously operating airport in the world,” said Rob Verbsky, the museum’s assistant director. “We present the history of early aviation from 1909 to World War II, and explore what life was like in the early 20th century.”

Glenn L. Martin Maryland Aviation Museum, Middle River

410-682-6122

The museum has collected more than a dozen aircraft and offers exhibits that tell the story of aviation and space history in Maryland and the contributions of Glenn L. Martin and his successful company. On June 18 and 19, the museum will join with Maryland Public Television to salute Vietnam veterans at “LZ Maryland,” at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium. The museum also offers a series of Open Cockpit Days, when visitors can climb into the cockpits of some of the aircraft. The next one is May 14, 11:00am–2:00pm.

Hagerstown Aviation Museum, Hagerstown

301-733-8717

Bring the family out to the Hagerstown Regional Airport for “Open Airplane Afternoon” on May 1, 1:00–4:00pm. Climb aboard and sit in the cockpit of some of the museum’s 20 historic aircraft. Twelve of those aircraft were built in Hagerstown.

NASA Goddard, Greenbelt

301-286-8981

Goddard’s visitor center presents NASA’s innovative and exciting work in earth science, astrophysics, heliophysics, planetary science, engineering, communication, and technology development. Many events are designed for families of elementary, middle, and high school students. Enjoy the model rocket launches on the first Sunday of each month.

Patuxent River Naval Air Museum, Lexington Park

301-863-1900

One interactive activity is the four-cockpit Mach Combat Simulator, in which you can have an aerial dogfight with your friends. The simulator operates Saturdays, 10:00am–5:00pm, and costs $10 for 30 minutes.

VIRGINIA AND WASHINGTON, D.C.

Flying Circus Airshows, Bealton

540-439-8661

More of an experience than a simple air show, the Flying Circus harkens back to the days of wing-walkers and barnstormers, when watching aerobatics was the pinnacle of entertainment. Every Sunday, May through October, thrill to the sight of biplanes or enjoy an open-cockpit plane ride. Join the fun at the Balloon Festival, Aug. 20–21, or any of the other special events that fill the Flying Circus’ calendar.

Military Aviation Museum, Virginia Beach

757-721-7767

The home to one of the largest private collections of World War I- and World War II-era military aircraft in the world. The museum’s Flying Proms program on June 11 brings an English tradition to America with vintage aircraft flying maneuvers accompanied by live music performed by a symphony orchestra.

NASA Wallops Visitor Center, Wallops Island

757-824-1344

Wallops is NASA’s only rocket launch range, launching and supporting suborbital and orbital rocket vehicles. The visitor center offers fun, educational public programs on the weekends and holidays that cover a variety of topics, including Wallops Flight Facility missions, model rocket launches, and earth and space science presentations.

National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.

202-633-2214

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly

Check out the airplane exhibits at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.
Check out the airplane exhibits at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.

703-572-4118

The world’s largest and most significant collection of aviation and space artifacts, the museum’s two facilities house exhibitions on aviation, space exploration, and planetary science. The museum on the mall in Washington is the Smithsonian’s most popular, while the massive Udvar-Hazy Center’s open, hangar-like settings can accommodate large aircraft, spacecraft, and entire aviation collections.

Virginia Air and Space Center, Hampton

757-727-0900

Explore 100 years of flight with more than 30 aircraft, flight simulators, space-flight artifacts, and a 3-D IMAX theater. Within the Virginia Air & Space Center, visitors can trace the course of manned flight through exhibits that reach from the earliest aviation experiments through today’s space travel. The visitor center for NASA Langley Research Center and Langley Air Force Base, VASC’s multi-level architecture provides a close view of some ferocious-
looking warbirds hanging from the ceiling.

NORTH CAROLINA

Wright Brothers National Memorial, Kitty Hawk, N.C.

252-473-2111

This is where airplane flight began, site of “the world’s first controlled, sustained, powered, heavier-than-air flight.” Visitors can see reproductions of the Wright brother’s camp and replicas of their gliders and 1903 flyer, walk the course of the first flight, and climb Big Kill Devil Hill to the monument erected to honor that event.

 

16-05 Aviation Martin

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