Image of the Air Force wings with the museum name underneath

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National Museum of the U.S. Air Force Centennial Exhibit

The National Museum of the United States Air Force exists to educate and motivate by preserving and telling stories of Air Force and Space Force history. We collect, study, and display artifacts, documents, and images important to the heritage of US air and space power. This special exhibit celebrating the history and the future of the museum's centennial anniversary is located in the Cold War Art Gallery.

Since 1923 the museum has grown from a small engineering study collection to the world's largest military aviation museum and is a world-renowned center for air and space power technology and culture preservation. The museum is home to countless one-of-a-kind objects.

Telling the air power story from its beginnings, the NMUSAF is also the world’s oldest military aviation museum. Our once small engine collection now includes more than 350 aerospace vehicles and missiles, thousands of artifacts, and spans 20 indoor acres with additional outdoor Air and Memorial Parks that continue to grow every year.

When the US entered World War I in 1917, its air power was small and unprepared. To quickly learn as much as possible from its European allies, American flyers visited France, Britain, and Italy to collect aircraft, engines, instruments, and other equipment to study.

In 1923 the Army created the institution that became today’s National Museum of the US Air Force. They believed an enthusiastic public could best appreciate the Army’s new air power by seeing examples of its equipment.

In 1931, the Army decided to re-establish an Army Aeronautical Museum at Wright Field. It opened in 1932 in a building in Wright-Patterson AFB’s present Area B (Bldg. 16), but with great expectations—in 1936 a new and beautiful Art Deco building (Bldg. 12) opened as the museum’s new home. The Works Progress Administration created the building as a depression-era project, and it has become an architectural landmark. The building can be seen easily from Springfield Street.

With war threatening in Europe, the museum found itself yielding to the needs of the rapidly expanding Army Air Corps. It closed to the public in early 1939, and by summer 1940 lost its building to growing requirements for office space. The museum collection was scattered across several Wright Field buildings, and the museum remained closed throughout and after World War II.

In late 1954, the new Air Force Technical Museum opened in Building 89, Area C, Wright-Patterson AFB—a former engine overhaul shop. The new museum was popular with the public, but was not ideal for preservation, even by 1950s standards. It had heating and cooling issues, and its interior was crowded with support beams that made moving aircraft and creating exhibits difficult. Many aircraft were stored outdoors and deteriorated in the elements. Leaders planned improvements, but the museum’s real future was back at Wright Field.

President Richard Nixon dedicated what is the current location of the Air Force Museum on Sept 3, 1971. Its first buildings included today’s Early Years and WWII galleries, and the site became the anchor for museum growth over the past 50 years.

The National Museum of the USAF is fully accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. Our current staff includes 96 Air Force civil service employees, plus around 500 volunteers and occasional summer students. Nine divisions and the director do the jobs required to make the museum run, and their duties broadly cover curatorial work, business functions, facilities operations, and outreach.

What will the future hold for the Museum? In 2021-2022, Museum staff and professional planners studied needs and possibilities, producing a speculative “master plan” for efficient campus growth over the next 20-30 years.

Return the the Cold War Gallery.