DAYTON, Ohio -- An exterior view of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force on the grounds of Wright-Patterson AFB on Oct. 27, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ty Greenlees)
Military Aviation Museum
DAYTON, Ohio -- Early Years Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
Boeing B-17F Memphis Belle on display in the WWII Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. B-17's flew in every combat zone during World War II, but its most significant service was over Europe. Along with the B-24 Liberator, the B-17 formed the backbone of the USAAF strategic bombing force, and it helped win the war by crippling Germany’s war industry. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
DAYTON, Ohio -- Cold War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
DAYTON, Ohio -- Apollo 15 Command Module on display in the Space Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
DAYTON, Ohio -- North American XB-70 Valkyrie on display in the Research & Development Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.(U.S. Air Force photo by Ty Greenlees)
DAYTON, Ohio -- The Flying the President exhibit in the Presidential Gallery of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. The museum was the recipient of the Air Force Heritage Award from the Department of the Air Force History and Museums Program for the exhibit. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ty Greenlees)
DAYTON, Ohio -- Northrop B-2 Spirit on display in the Cold War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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The National Museum of the United States Air Force located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, is the service’s national institution for preserving and presenting the Air Force story. Each year about one million visitors come to the museum to learn about the mission, history and evolving capabilities of America’s Air Force.
The museum is the world’s largest and oldest military aviation museum featuring more than 350 aerospace vehicles and missiles on display amid more than 19 acres of indoor exhibit space. Thousands of personal artifacts, photographs and documents further highlight the people and events that comprise the Air Force storyline, from the beginnings of military flight to today’s war on terrorism.
The U.S. Air Force operates the museum complex through government appropriated funds. The commander of the Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base maintains operational oversight of the museum, with the History Office of the Secretary of the Air Force in Washington, D.C., providing policy guidance. The museum is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.
Mr. David Tillotson serves as director, and the museum’s 96 federal civil service positions cover a variety of areas, including exhibits, collection, research, aircraft restoration, operations, education, special events, planning, public affairs and administration. More than 600 volunteers provide an important contribution in diverse areas from greeting and assisting visitors to leading tours and helping restore aircraft.
The museum’s galleries present many rare and one-of-a-kind aircraft and aerospace vehicles and thousands of historical items that chronicle the evolution of military flight from the Wright brothers to today’s stealth aircraft. Sensory-rich exhibits, featuring mannequins, artifacts, sound effects and theatrical lighting, place aircraft in context and bring history to life by dramatizing and personalizing the events depicted. Visitors walking through the museum can view multiple galleries focusing on the various eras of military aviation and Air Force history, including the Early Years, World War I, World War II, Korea, Southeast Asia, the Cold War, Flying the President, Research and Development, Global Reach and Space.
A number of popular and historically significant aircraft headline the museum’s growing collection. Particularly noteworthy aircraft from the early years include a rare SPAD XIII, Caproni Ca. 36 bomber and an MB-2 bomber. The World War II collection includes the B-17 Memphis Belle, B-29 Bockscar that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, along with a P-51 and Japanese Zero. The F-86 and MiG-15 help represent the Korean War, with the F-4 among Vietnam standouts.
Modern favorites include the B-52, B-1, F-15, F-16, F-117 stealth fighter, the Predator, Reaper and Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft, the F-22A Raptor and the world’s only permanent public exhibit of a B-2 stealth bomber.
The fourth building, which opened in June 2016, includes the Space Shuttle Exhibit featuring NASA’s first Crew Compartment Trainer (CCT-1) that was used to train astronauts on operating the Space Shuttle Orbiter, and highlights the long history of the USAF/NASA partnership. The building also features a world-class collection of experimental and presidential aircraft, including the only remaining XB-70 Valkyrie, and Air Force One, SAM (Special Air Mission) 26000, a Boeing VC-137C that served eight presidents, as well as large cargo aircraft such as the C-141C Hanoi Taxi, which airlifted the first American prisoners of war to freedom from Gia Lam Airport in Hanoi, North Vietnam, on Feb. 12, 1973.
Animating the Air Force story, the museum offers a wide variety of special events and educational programs to connect the service with the public. Through its education office, the museum has more than 203,000 contacts each year with students, teachers, youth groups and family members through hands-on learning activities, workshops, tours and curriculum materials. In doing so, the museum helps inspire tomorrow’s Airmen and cultivates future air power advocates.
The museum manages hundreds of special events a year. Favorites include the biennial World War I Dawn Patrol Rendezvous, Space Fest, the Giant Scale Radio-Controlled Model Aircraft Air Show, concerts featuring the Air Force Band of Flight, “Plane Talks” history moments and more.
The National Museum of the United States Air Force traces its birth to 1923 at McCook Field near Dayton; it moved to Wright Field in 1927. The museum closed from 1940 to 1955 due to urgent need for administrative space to support the war effort.
In 1960 local interest in aviation history led to the creation of the Air Force Museum Foundation, Inc., to secure funds for the museum. A nationwide fund-raising campaign resulted in the construction of a new facility in the late 1960s, with President Richard Nixon dedicating the new building in September 1971. In 1976 the foundation donated an addition to that building, and in 1988 the foundation and federal government funded equally a second exhibit building. The IMAX Theatre and atrium opened in 1991. In 2003 the museum opened the 200,000 square-foot Eugene W. Kettering Cold War Gallery, the first phase of a major expansion. A Missile and Space Gallery constructed as a missile silo, opened in 2004, and the theatre underwent an $800,000 renovation in 2012 as part of its conversion to a 400-seat digital 3D theatre. Implementation of the third phase of the expansion plan, privately financed by the Foundation, was construction of a 224,000 square-foot fourth building, which opened to the public in 2016.
The Air Force Museum Foundation, Inc., was chartered in 1960 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that assists in the development and expansion of the facilities of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. In addition, the foundation provides funds each year to the museum for special projects and underwrites several programs involving a wide range of activities geared toward education, volunteer support, special events, and promotional efforts. The foundation operates the Museum Store, Digital 3D Theatre, and simulators including Interactive Flight Simulators, MovieRide and Virtual Reality Transporter as well as the Valkyrie and Refueling Cafés. It receives its funds through the operation of these activities as well as primarily through foundation membership, donations and gifts. For more information, visit www.afmuseum.com.
The museum is located six miles northeast of Dayton, accessed easily off Interstates 70 and 75 to Interstate 675, exit 15, which is the Colonel Glenn Highway exit.
The museum is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Parking and admission are free; however, there is a charge for the Air Force Museum Theatre and interactive simulators. For more information, visit the museum on the Web at www.nationalmuseum.af.mil. To experience a virtual tour of the museum, visit www.nmusafvirtualtour.com. For more information, contact the Public Affairs Division, 1100 Spaatz Street, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH, 45433-7102; (937) 255-1337, 255-1386 or 255-1283.
Revised December 2021
The National Museum of the United States Air Force is internationally acclaimed as the world’s largest and oldest military aviation museum. It is located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio, home of the Wright brothers.
The museum dates its origins back to 1923, when it opened to the public in an aircraft hangar at the edge of McCook Field near downtown Dayton. From the informal showing of World War I planes and equipment of both the United States and foreign governments, the collection has grown to more than 360 aerospace vehicles and missiles, plus thousands of aviation artifacts on display.
Dayton had an early acquaintance with aviation. The Wright brothers developed their 1903 flyer in Dayton and continued flying at nearby Huffman Prairie between 1904 and 1910. The Army conducted experimental flying at McCook Field during and after World War I.
Area residents donated funds to purchase over 5,000 acres of land in the 1920s to help establish Wright Field as a research center to replace the outgrown McCook Field. The museum moved to Wright Field, and between 1927 and 1935, it occupied 8,100 square feet of space in a laboratory building.
In 1935 the museum got its first real home in the form of a specially designed building at Wright Field costing $203,000. Funding came through the Works Progress Administration. By this time, the museum collection included more than 3,000 items. But the new home was converted to wartime use in 1941, and the collection went into storage.
At the end of the war, General H.H. “Hap” Arnold directed the collection of items for the opening of a National Air Museum. The Air Technical Service Command, predecessor to Air Force Materiel Command, assumed the task of locating aircraft for the new National Air Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. In 1947 the Air Force decided to re-open the Air Force Museum to emphasize aircraft technical developments, using aircraft and equipment not needed by the National Air Museum. Housed in Building 89, the collection was open by appointment only until April 1955 when it was opened to the public. It was located at adjoining Patterson Field in a World War II structure that had housed an engine-overhaul facility. Attendance in 1955 totaled 41,662 visitors. Since then, attendance has spiraled to approximately one million visitors a year.
In the early 1960s, the museum built a uniquely designed interior “maze” floor plan that directed visitors along a controlled walkway, unfolding the story of military aviation in chronological sequence.
The museum outgrew the converted World War II building in the early 1960s. Furthermore, the building was neither fireproof nor air conditioned and was unsuitable for properly protecting and displaying the growing, priceless collection. Support posts every 16 feet in one direction and every 50 feet in another, for instance, greatly restricted how and where aircraft could be exhibited.
Thanks to the Air Force Museum Foundation, a philanthropic, non-profit organization founded in 1960, a new $6.5 million museum building opened in 1971 on a 400-acre site at historic Wright Field. President Richard M. Nixon highlighted formal dedication ceremonies in September that year. Public contributions covered the entire cost of the 800-by-240-foot building, which was designed especially for display of aircraft and provided indoor protection for nearly 100 aircraft. The museum added a $1 million visitor reception center in 1976, again through contributions made by the public to the foundation.
A twin hangar storage facility, housing about 30 aircraft, opened in 1977 on the old Wright Field flight line, about one mile from the main museum complex and housed the museum’s presidential aircraft collection and research and development aircraft until they were moved to the fourth building in 2016.
During the 1980s, the museum supervised the development of a Memorial Park on a portion of its 400-acre site. More than 600 memorials have been dedicated to commemorate the military service of individuals and organizations. Interested citizens financed each memorial, whether a tree with a simple plaque or an elaborate granite monument.
A major museum expansion, the building that now houses the Korean War and Southeast Asia War Galleries, opened in April 1988. The foundation and federal government jointly funded the $10.8 million facility, which is parallel to and similar in appearance to the 1971 museum building.
In October 1989 the Air Force Museum Foundation awarded a contract to the B.G. Danis Company/Building Division of Dayton for the construction of an IMAX Theatre. The 500-seat IMAX Theatre, constructed in front of and connected to the existing museum buildings, opened in May 1991. An 80-foot-high glass atrium over the expanded lobby serves as the architectural focal point for the entire $7.3 million complex. The theatre underwent an $800,000 renovation in 2012 as part of its conversion to a 400-seat digital 3D theatre.
In 2003 the museum opened the 200,000 square-foot third building, the Eugene W. Kettering Cold War Gallery. The first phase of the museum’s expansion, the new building allowed the museum to expand its exhibit space and reconstitute the flow of its galleries into a more chronological order. As a result of the additional space, the museum developed an area dedicated to telling the story of the U.S. Air Force in the Cold War and beyond. This area illuminates the people, technology, missions and weapon platforms that helped democracy triumph over communism.
The next expansion phase was the Missile Gallery, which opened in 2004. The gallery functions in concert with the Cold War Gallery to tell the story of the Air Force’s vital role in strategic nuclear deterrence. It temporarily houses elements of the space collection, and over time much of that content will be migrated to the new Space Gallery. The foundation gifted a total of $24 million for the Cold War and Missile Galleries.
In 2016 a 224,000 square-foot fourth building, dedicated to four important elements in the history of the Air Force, was completed. The facility includes a Space Gallery portraying the Air Force’s past, present and future in space, the Presidential Gallery to display the museum’s one-of-a-kind presidential aircraft fleet, the Research and Development Gallery representing advances in technological problem solving and the Global Reach Gallery highlighting the Air Force’s airlift and humanitarian missions.
The new additions to the main museum complex as well as the two hangars on the old Wright Field flight line provide more than 19 acres of indoor exhibition space — a far cry from the 8,100 square feet of the 1927-1935 era.
In October 2004 the museum announced its official re-designation from the United States Air Force Museum to the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The name underscores the museum’s national mission, reinforces its world-class collection, and places it at a name level with industry peers such as the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Florida, and the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia.
Although the Air Force operates the museum through government appropriated funds, the Air Force Museum Foundation operates the Museum Store, Digital 3D Theatre and simulators including Interactive Flight Simulators, MovieRide and Virtual Reality Transporter as well as the Valkyrie and Refueling Cafés. Proceeds are used to support museum activities and to remodel or expand museum facilities. “Friends of the Air Force Museum,” created by the foundation in 1978, is an organization of aviation enthusiasts who support the museum. For an annual fee, members receive a quarterly Friends Journal, discounts in the Museum Store and other benefits.
Revised Sep 2017
Early Years Gallery
The gallery covers the history of flight from the earliest aviation legends through the early 1940s. The aircraft displayed range from the Wright 1909 Flyer to the Hawker Hurricane. History displays cover such topics as the development of the Wright brothers’ aircraft, the Mexican Punitive Expedition, World War I, research and development in the 1930s and the United States’ preparation for World War II.
World War II Gallery
Telling the World War II story, this gallery displays examples of Army Air Forces pursuit aircraft and bombers. Displays cover topics relating to all Army Air Forces participation in World War II, including the China-Burma-India Theater, the European, Pacific and Mediterranean theaters, the Tuskegee Airmen, Women Airforce Service Pilots and the home front. Prominent aircraft on display include the B-17 Memphis Belle, B-29 Bockscar that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan; the B-25 with Doolittle Raider exhibit; P-51; B-24, Japanese Zero and more.
Korean War Gallery
In the Korean War area, visitors can immerse themselves in a story line that reflects the emergence of the modern U.S. Air Force as the service experienced significant changes in roles, tactics and technology during the war. Visitors also can walk through the fuselage of a B-29 and, for a fee, can enjoy the interactive simulators, featuring aviation adventure rides.
Southeast Asia War Gallery
The Southeast Asia War area offers aircraft and exhibits that convey the Air Force’s involvement in the war, highlighting key air campaigns such as Operation Rolling Thunder and Operation Linebacker I and II. In the area adjacent to the Southeast Asia War Gallery, examples of modern aircraft on display include the F-22A Raptor, the world’s first stealthy air dominance fighter; and the Bird of Prey, a technology demonstrator that proved instrumental in the development of stealth technology and manufacturing processes.
Cold War Gallery
The Eugene W. Kettering Cold War Gallery features aircraft that span the years of the Cold War and reveal how technological achievements of the era led to the advanced systems being applied in modern combat. Featuring over 200,000 square feet of exhibit space, the gallery’s aircraft collection presents a broad range of platforms, such as fighters, long-range bombers, attack aircraft, reconnaissance, heavy airlift and trainers including the massive B-36J aircraft, the largest bomber ever built by the U.S. Air Force, the F-117 stealth fighter and the world’s only permanent public display of a B-2 stealth bomber. Other popular aircraft include a B-1B bomber, an F-15, F-16, SR-71 and U-2 spy plane.
Opened in 2004, this gallery presents the Air Force’s key role in strategic nuclear deterrence and temporarily houses elements of the space collection, which will eventually be moved to the Space Gallery.
The Allan and Malcolm Lockheed and Glenn Martin Space Gallery showcases the Space Shuttle Exhibit featuring NASA’s first Crew Compartment Trainer (CCT), which was used to train space shuttle astronauts for
their missions. The exhibit allows visitors to experience a full-size representation of a NASA space shuttle payload bay, which displays a Teal Ruby satellite, and look into the flight deck and mid-deck levels of the CCT. The gallery also includes the massive 96-ton Titan IVB space launch vehicle, Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft, and several experimental aircraft and even balloon gondolas that helped pave the way to space flight. Formerly top-secret satellites and related items will showcase the Air Force’s vast reconnaissance, early warning, communications and other space-based capabilities.
The museum is the repository for Air Force aircraft that have been retired from the presidential aircraft fleet. The William E. Boeing Presidential Gallery features 10 historical aircraft representing more than 70 years of dedicated presidential service. Visitors can walk through four of them, including the VC-54C Sacred Cow used by President Roosevelt, the VC-121E Columbine III used by President Eisenhower, the VC-118 The Independence used by President Truman and the VC-137C, also known as Air Force One, Special Air Mission (SAM) 26000, that served eight presidents including Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton. SAM 26000 carried President Kennedy’s body back to Washington, D.C. from Dallas after his assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, and served as the location where President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the new president.
Research and Development Gallery
The world’s largest collection of test aircraft under one roof is on display in the Maj. Gen. Albert Boyd and Maj. Gen. Fred Ascani Research and Development (R&D) Gallery. The centerpiece of the gallery is the world’s only remaining XB-70A Valkyrie. A very popular artifact for visitors, the Mach 3 (2,000+ mph) Valkyrie was a highly-advanced aircraft tested in the 1960s.The R&D Gallery’s diverse collection ranges from World War II up to the present, representing advances in technological problem solving and increasing the museum’s opportunities to teach STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) themes and principles.
Global Reach Gallery
An important element of Air Force history is told in the Lt. Gen. William H. Tunner Global Reach Gallery. Providing airlift remains a major mission of the U.S. Air Force and it forms a critical part of the Air Force’s ability to maintain global reach. Visitors can walk through three of the four aircraft featured in this gallery – the C-141C Hanoi Taxi, which airlifted the first American prisoners of war to freedom from Gia Lam Airport in Hanoi, North Vietnam, in 1973, as well as the C-82 and C-130E. The gallery also includes the C-21, which was used for airlift and aeromedical evacuations.
Along with its more than 19 acres of indoor exhibit space, the museum offers a Memorial Park and an outdoor Air Park, which includes aircraft, a World War II Control Tower and Nissen Hut.
The museum’s Memorial Park honors Air Force-associated people and units for their past service and sacrifice in the cause of freedom. The first memorial dedicated at the museum was a commemorative tree and plaque dedicated in October 1972 to those Americans held as prisoners of war by the North Vietnamese and those missing in action during the Southeast Asia War. Since then, the park has grown to more than 620 memorials, including statuary memorials, plaques, trees and benches.
Also located in the Air Park, the replica 8th Air Force Control Tower represents those used by the U.S. Army Air Forces and Royal Air Force units at various air bases in Great Britain, allowing air traffic control personnel to direct aircraft takeoffs and landings at the field. Next to the 8th Air Force Control Tower, the Nissen Hut portrays a 1940s bar and briefing room of an Army Air Corps Fighter Escort Squadron stationed in England. Photos, music and mannequins create an authentic mood, with scenes depicting a pre-mission briefing and Airmen winding down with a game of cards and checkers as music stirs from a phonograph.
Performing the mission of the National Museum of the United States Air Force™ is a complex undertaking. It requires expertise across a broad range of disciplines. Various museum divisions with diverse responsibilities help the museum operate smoothly, often combining efforts to support activities such as aircraft rollouts, exhibit openings and special events. Divisions include:
Staff members in the Collection Management Division provide stewardship for the museum system’s considerable aircraft and artifact collection, ensuring accountability for all U.S. Air Force historical property. The division manages a massive collection of more than 133,000 items worldwide, including over 3,200 aerospace vehicles. In addition, as part of the U.S. Air Force Heritage Program (USAFHP), the division provides technical and professional guidance to 11 field museums, 292 domestic and international heritage sites, over 120 civilian museums and more than 360 cities, municipalities and veterans’ organizations throughout the world. The division also ensures accountability for all aerospace vehicles and artifacts on loan to these organizations. The museum’s conservator monitors the condition of the collection and applies appropriate treatments and preventative care to objects as needed, as well as providing technical guidance on proper environmental controls and display methods. Staff curators also serve as project managers, coordinating the development, artifact selection, design and installation for new exhibits.
The Education Division provides a multi-disciplinary educational program that offers learning opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as well as social studies, literature and art, for pre-kindergarten children through senior adults. The division has more than 203,000 contacts each year with students, teachers, young people, families and adults through more than 1,000 programs. These multi-disciplinary “hands-on, minds-on” programs allow learners at all levels to explore military aviation history and aerospace concepts. The school and youth programs are designed to inspire tomorrow’s Airmen, pilots, engineers, scientists and air power advocates, while the programs for adults offer informal and in-depth learning experiences through tours and classes.
The Air Force story is one animated by magnificent aircraft, but granted true vitality through the honor, courage and sacrifice of the men and women who have forged that story through the years. It is their story the museum tells, particularly through imaginative exhibit design. Bringing the historical moment to life is the work of the Exhibits Division. The staff designs and constructs exhibits that capture the essence of Air Force men and women and bring history to life for museum visitors. Using a dynamic approach to exhibit design that incorporates mannequins, sound effects, theatrical lighting, audio-visual products, interactive touch-screens and artifacts, exhibit specialists construct scenes around the aircraft that humanize the stories, arousing curiosity and drawing viewers into the events and era portrayed.
The Management Support Division provides guidance, support, and direct management for various museum functions, including human resources, payroll, budget, information technology and plans and programs. The staff ensures the success of day-to-day operations by executing the museum’s budget, accounting, and purchasing programs, along with the civilian payroll, training, and travel requirements. All civilian recruitment, hiring, retention and performance management functions are performed in this Division.
Computer, network, and functional database support are managed for the entire organization as well. Staff manages and monitors plans, programs, and compliance affecting the museum and the USAF’s National Historical Collection to ensure sound stewardship and to make Air Force heritage available to a broad audience. Staff members conduct research and analysis and provide technical and professional guidance to the USAF Heritage Program. They help showcase USAF heritage throughout the world, including acquisition of aerospace vehicles and artifacts in addition to reviewing and certifying prospective borrowing organizations. The division develops and oversees online museum exhibits; manages an exchange program, exchanging excess items for goods and services that directly benefit the historical collection; develops and manages the museum’s strategic plan; and administers matters pertaining to institutional and policy alignment with the Air Force.
The Operations Division manages the museum’s more than one million square feet of facilities and grounds and helps ensure the safety of visitors, staff and volunteers and the security of the historical collection. Division staff members provide vital logistical and security support to museum events and are responsible for working with the Air Force Museum Foundation on museum expansion efforts.
Seeking to expand museum visibility regionally, nationally and globally, the Public Affairs Division promotes the institution’s activities, initiatives and achievements to the public through tourism agencies, news media, community groups and historical organizations. The division builds awareness of the museum and America’s Air Force through its development of a variety of promotional materials, advertising and marketing initiatives, media interface and management of the museum’s website and social media networks.
Serving on multiple fronts, the Research Division ensures that timely, relevant and accurate Air Force historical information is presented to the public through a variety of means. The division manages the museum’s ever-expanding document and imagery collection, researches and writes exhibit text, and provides historical guidance for exhibit development, aircraft restoration, staff projects and public and media queries. Staff members assist in many other ways, leading tours, delivering talks to local and national audiences, and participating in media interviews, among other activities.
Preserving the Air Force’s proud legacy, the Restoration Division restores aerospace vehicles to historically accurate and visually striking levels. Division members are well versed in a variety of skills, ranging from machine and woodworking expertise to precision craftsmanship in sheet metal and painting. Their knowledge of aircraft spans years of technology — from World War I fabric-covered aircraft to the elite fighters of today’s Air Force. Restoration workers maintain the museum’s vast aircraft collection, move aircraft into exhibit position and work hand-in-hand with the Exhibits and Research Divisions and museum management on ever-changing gallery displays. The Restoration Division relies heavily on a dedicated, talented cadre of volunteers in accomplishing its mission.
Each year, the Special Events Division plans and executes hundreds of events that help convey the Air Force story and the military aviation spirit. Indoor and outdoor events range from flying events and Air Force Band of Flight concerts to ceremonies and living history events. Special events staff support aircraft rollouts, exhibit openings, reunion groups and memorial dedications. Prominent recurring major events include the biennial World War I Dawn Patrol Rendezvous and the Giant Scale Radio-Controlled Model Aircraft Air Show. A vital part of the Special Events Division is the museum’s Volunteer Resources Program. This essential program provides a multi-million dollar asset in terms of human resources to the USAF. Volunteers staff the exhibit galleries and buildings, providing visitor services and additional security for the museum collection. They also provide outstanding support services to many other divisions within the museum.
In recent years, the National Museum of the United States Air Force™ has continued to add historically significant aircraft to its collection and further develop the storyline contained in its galleries. Foreseeing continued growth, museum officials and the Air Force Museum Foundation, a philanthropic, non-profit organization created in 1960 to assist the museum when federal funds are not available, recognized a need for added facilities and created a multi-phase, long-term facility expansion plan.
In 2003 the first phase of the expansion became reality with the opening of the 200,000 square-foot Eugene W. Kettering Cold War Gallery. In 2004 the museum opened the Missile and Space Gallery to exhibit its world-class collection of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and satellite boosters, along with elements of its space collection.
The next phase was completed in the spring of 2016 and includes a 224,000 square-foot fourth building dedicated to four important elements in the history of the Air Force. The new facility includes a Space Gallery portraying the Air Force’s past, present and future in space, the Presidential Gallery to display the museum’s one-of-a-kind presidential aircraft fleet, the Research and Development Gallery representing advances in technological problem solving and the Global Reach Gallery highlighting the Air Force’s airlift and humanitarian missions.
Eugene W. Kettering Cold War Gallery
Named in honor of the first head of the Air Force Museum Foundation’s Board of Trustees, this 200,000 square-foot building opened in 2003. The Cold War Gallery features historical and modern aircraft such as the massive B-36, a B-1, an F-117 stealth fighter, an A-10 and the world’s only permanent public exhibit of a B-2 stealth bomber.
Resembling a missile silo in architectural design, the Missile Gallery currently houses the museum’s ICBMs and will eventually feature the satellite booster collection. The gallery stands 140 feet high and contains more than 12,500 square feet. Construction began in December 2002 and finished a year later in December 2003. Featuring an elevated viewing platform, the gallery combines with the Cold War Gallery to tell the story of the U.S. Air Force’s contributions in Soviet containment and strategic deterrence during the Cold War.
The new fourth building, which opened to the public on June 8, 2016, includes the following galleries:
Allan and Malcolm Lockheed and Glenn Martin Space Gallery
The Space Gallery showcases the Space Shuttle Exhibit featuring NASA’s first Crew Compartment Trainer (CCT), which was used to train space shuttle astronauts for their missions. The exhibit allows visitors to experience a full-size representation of a NASA space shuttle payload bay, which displays a Teal Ruby satellite, and look into the flight deck and mid-deck levels of the CCT. The gallery also includes the massive
96-ton Titan IVB space launch vehicle, Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft, and several experimental aircraft and even balloon gondolas that helped pave the way to space flight. Formerly top-secret satellites and related items will showcase the Air Force’s vast reconnaissance, early warning, communications and other space-based capabilities.
William E. Boeing Presidential Gallery
The museum is the repository for Air Force aircraft that have been retired from the presidential aircraft fleet. The Presidential Gallery features 10 historical aircraft representing more than 70 years of dedicated presidential service. Visitors can walk through four of them, including the VC-54C Sacred Cow used by President Roosevelt, the VC-121E Columbine III used by President Eisenhower, the VC-118 The Independence used by President Truman and the VC-137C, also known as Air Force One, Special Air Mission (SAM) 26000, that served eight presidents including Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton. SAM 26000 carried President Kennedy’s body back to Washington, D.C. from Dallas after his assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, and served as the location where President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the new president.
Maj. Gen. Albert Boyd and Maj. Gen. Fred Ascani Research and Development Gallery
The world’s largest collection of test aircraft under one roof are on display in the Research and Development (R&D) Gallery. The centerpiece of the gallery is the world’s only remaining XB-70A Valkyrie. A very popular artifact for visitors, the Mach 3 (2,000+ mph) Valkyrie was a highly-advanced aircraft tested in the 1960s.The R&D Gallery’s diverse collection ranges from World War II up to the present, representing advances in technological problem solving and increasing the museum’s opportunities to teach STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) themes and principles.
Lt. Gen. William H. Tunner Global Reach Gallery
An important element of Air Force history is told in the Global Reach Gallery. Providing airlift remains a major mission of the U.S. Air Force and it forms a critical part of the Air Force’s ability to maintain global reach. Visitors can walk through three of the four aircraft featured in this gallery – the C-141C Hanoi Taxi, which airlifted the first American prisoners of war to freedom from Gia Lam Airport in Hanoi, North Vietnam, in 1973, as well as the C-82 and C-130E. The gallery also includes the C-21, which was used for airlift and aeromedical evacuations.
STEM Learning Nodes
A very special feature of the fourth building is the addition of three separate STEM Learning Nodes. These special educational environments enable the museum to meet one of its core missions: to educate and inspire our youth, especially encouraging them to excel in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force placed one of the most famous aircraft in U.S. history, the B-17F Memphis Belle™, on public display in May 2018. The Memphis Belle was the first U.S. Army Air Forces heavy bomber to return to the United States after completing 25 missions over Europe. Upon its return to the United States in June 1943, the Memphis Belle’s crew flew the aircraft across the country to more than 30 stops on a war bond and morale boosting tour. Plans call for the aircraft to be placed on display in the museum’s World War II Gallery on May 17, 2018 - exactly 75 years after its crew finished their last mission in the war against Nazi Germany on May 17, 1943.
STEM learning opportunities
The fourth building's opening in 2016 also brought new STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning opportunities to America’s youth. Three dedicated, interactive educational spaces, known as STEM Learning Nodes, can accommodate student-centered, technology-enhanced learning through hands-on programs, demonstrations and lectures. When not in use for structured educational programming, there are a variety of programs available to the visiting public, including science and engineering demonstrations, hands-on activities, special presentations, videos and more.
Rare, one-of-a-kind and historic attractions
The museum is home to rare, one-of-a-kind and historic aircraft, and exhibits and significant aircraft are added to the collection each year. Popular attractions include the world’s only permanent public displays of a B-2 stealth bomber and F-22A Raptor; Air Force One, Special Air Mission (SAM) 26000, used by eight presidents, and other presidential aircraft; the world’s only remaining XB-70 Valkyrie; the B-29 Bockscar that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, in World War II; sections of the Berlin Wall; a Bob Hope exhibit; and much more.
Fun for all ages
The museum has something for the entire family! From monthly Family Day activities to summer Aerospace Camps to home school programs, the museum’s Education Division has more than 203,000 contacts with adults and students each year, teaching them U.S. Air Force history and the science of aviation. In addition, the museum hosts hundreds of special events that help convey the Air Force story and the military aviation spirit, including flying events, exhibit openings and aircraft roll-outs, Air Force Band of Flight concerts, ceremonies and guest lecturers.
The museum’s interactive 360-degree virtual tour gives online visitors a chance to explore the museum at their leisure, plan future visits and share their experiences with friends and family. The tour includes 92 high-definition panoramic “nodes,” and within each node, aircraft and artifacts are hyperlinked to factsheets, supplemental information and educational tools. In addition, visitors can view more than 80 interactive cockpit photos from some of the museum’s best known aircraft, both on the Virtual Tour or by downloading the free Cockpit360 app from the Apple and Google Play Stores. The virtual tour is located at www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Virtual-Tour/
All visitors may be screened with a metal detector upon entry. In addition all bags are subject to search and may be placed through an X-Ray machine. Weapons are not permitted including pocket knives.
- Box cutters
- Food and Soda Drinks
* Firearms and other dangerous weapons are specifically prohibited in Federal facilities in accordance with 18 USC §930 (c)
- Water bottles (clear, sealed bottle, up to 20 oz.)
- Camera bags
- Diaper bags
- Service animals
Please note the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is not responsible for items left in vehicles.
Click here for frequently asked questions regarding items permitted inside the museum.
Notice: Visitors may be filmed, photographed or recorded by the U.S. Air Force for educational and promotional uses, including for posting on public websites and social media.
Individuals are permitted to take their own photographs or videos while touring the museum.
Note: The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the National Museum of the USAF, the U.S. Air Force, or the Department of Defense, of the external website, or the information, products or services contained therein.