Like Orville Wright, I was born in Dayton, Ohio. The fact that I was born there and that Dayton is considered the birthplace of aviation somehow got intertwined in my life. I spent many enjoyable summer days lying on the grass at regional airports watching air shows. We trekked to these same airports whenever my dad had short commuter flights to Chicago, or when my dad or grandfather was actually flying a plane. In fact, my first flight was in a small plane that my grandfather flew. I looked out the window at the tiny miniature world below me and was instantly in love with flying.
Luckily, so was the city of Dayton. It is here that the National Air Force Museum was built on the grounds of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Schools all over Ohio scheduled field trips to the massive three-hangar site. It was incredibly overwhelming as a child, seeing all those old war planes, rockets, and cargo jets. It was like stepping into a different world that began with the Wright brothers.
Years later, I took my own children there, introducing them to aircraft and flight. I didn’t really think it was making much of an impact. I thought it was probably just a nice way to spend a day wandering around. The exhibits are fantastic. There is a wing devoted to early flight. Another that chronicles WWII and the fighter planes that fought in both the Pacific and Europe. I especially enjoy the section that highlights the U.S. troops and their arrival at the concentration camps. Very impactful.
My daughter loves the space wing. There is a spot where you can step behind the NASA astronaut suit and have your picture taken. There is also a room where you can peer up at rockets that have flown into space. This naturally leads to us buying space ice cream at the gift shop later.
But it wasn’t until my son was in high school and we took our German exchange student to the museum that I really learned what an impact these aircraft had on our lives.
As we toured around the museum, tracing flight through time, we finally arrived in the hangar full of more contemporary aircraft. We snapped pictures of the kids beside various planes, choosing our favorites. Then my son walked over to a black stealth SR-71 Blackbird and posed.
“This is my favorite. This is the one I want to fly.”
By that point, we knew that he planned to enter the service after high school. We weren’t sure yet whether it would be the Air Force or the Marines. Frankly, until that moment, it all just seemed like speculation to me.
But seeing Mac standing next to that plane and realizing that he actually might one day fly it, made his future suddenly real. Now I wasn’t just standing in a museum full of historical aircraft; I was standing in a hangar on an Air Force base looking at planes that real military personnel had flown in. These weren’t artifacts; they were functional planes that my son knew the names of, and might someday fly.
His future came soaring into view. It was real, and I was standing in a small part of his imminent world. I’ve never been able to look at the museum the same way again. Now I’m awed, not just by the size of the place and the number of planes, but by the world it contains.
Do you have a favorite plane or Air Force Museum?