Aerospace museums in the USA are some of the biggest and best in the world – but where to begin?
American aviation has an incredible history and heritage, and every year millions seek to explore it through some of the best aerospace museums the USA – and, for that matter, the world – has to offer. The number and quality of aviation museums in the USA are staggering, and anyone with at least a pinch of aeronautical interest can easily find themselves lost at sea.
This article will break down the glorious offering of air and space museums in the USA, helping you to decide where your next visit will take you. Speaking of getting there, if you’re interested in aircraft, why not indulge that interest on the journey as much as at the destination? Private jet charter permits you complete control over your mode of arrival, even allowing you to select the plane that takes you there!
Table of Contents
National Air and Space Museum
Let’s take it from the top: most sources agree that the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. is one of the best aviation museums in the US and the biggest air and space museum in the world. Established in 1946, this was the fifth most-visited museum globally in 2018 – and for good reason. Its list of exhibitions and collections is almost endless, ranging from passenger airliners to moon landing gear – out of this world in every sense!
This isn’t just a static showreel of American aviation history, though, as there’s education, research, and a whole host of other activities on offer, making the National Air and Space Museum not only arguably the best air and space museum in the country, but also a living, breathing center of aeronautical excellence.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Located in Orlando, Florida, the Kennedy Space Center is famous around the world for its role in the moon landing mission. What many perhaps don’t know is that this ground-zero of American cultural history is also one of the best space museums in the US. While other flight museums are often signposted for miles around, as this remains in use as a launch area for missions heading outside the atmosphere, you might not realize that it’s open to visitors.
It probably goes without saying, but the focus here is above the skies. If you’re looking for the best space museums in the country, you might think that you can stop reading right about now as it doesn’t get any better than this. While this isn’t true, as the next entry will show, the general sentiment isn’t too far off: the Kennedy Space Center is one of the best aviation museums in the USA.
Space Center Houston
Space Center Houston – located in, well, Houston, Texas, obviously – vies for the top spot with its sibling at Cape Canaveral as one of the best space museums in the US. While the Kennedy Space Center is where the space-bound ships depart from, Houston is where mission control is located. This means that, ideally, budding astronauts and those with a keen interest in space travel might want to consider visiting both sites – the brains and the brawn, as it were.
If you’re only choosing one destination, though, do bear in mind that the control centers at Space Center Houston are all accessible via tram tour, carrying visitors through the main attractions in comfort and style. This makes Space Center Houston not only one of the best air and space museums in the USA, but also a very accessible and affordable option, as the tram tour helps disabled guests to experience the exhibits and is included in the admission price!
Pima Air and Space Museum
While the earlier entries on the list are courtesy of the US government, the Pima Air and Space Museum, located in Tucson, Arizona, is a more independent affair. This means that there’s more creative control over the exhibition spaces, and the tastes of the owners can really shine through because of this. If you’re looking for a unique, well-cultivated collection of aircraft in one of the biggest aviation museums in the USA, Pima is a good choice.
Pima is also spread over a vast, open area, so visitors can expect a fair amount of walking. To some, this might be off-putting, but if you like the sound of a wide-open wander amongst the exhibits at one of the largest air museums in the US, then head down to Arizona and soak in what’s on offer – just don’t forget the sunscreen!
The Museum of Flight
If the eccentricities of private ownership sound perfect to you, why not check out the largest airplane museum in the USA – and the world, for that matter – of this type? The Museum of Flight in Tukwila, Washington, is an independent, non-profit air and space museum that’s dedicated to – well, you guessed it – the history of humanity’s attempts to fly. Flight simulators, guest lectures, and a range of exhibits aid them in this pursuit and lead to the Museum of Flight often appearing in lists of the best aviation museums in the USA.
National Museum of the United States Air Force
The National Museum of the United States Air Force, located on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, is one of the best air museums in the USA. The focus here, obviously, is on military history, and so the exhibits that visitors encounter will mostly follow that trend.
That’s not to say that the focus here is limited, however, as a space gallery, a presidential gallery, and even an exhibit dedicated to the history of American signage demonstrate. For visitors looking for a military-led experience that still has other elements of intrigue, the National Museum of the United States Air Force is one of the best aviation museums in the US.
Wings over the Rockies
The charmingly named Wings over the Rockies, located in Denver, Colorado, is one of the best air museums in the USA. The usual repertoire to be expected of an aviation museum is on show here – fixed exhibits of notable aircraft; rotating exhibitions of unique objects; a flight simulator here, a space experience there – but where else will you see a ¾ scale X-wing, of Star Wars fame? Other unique exhibits include a propeller signed by Orville Wright, perhaps the most famous name in aviation history – worth the trip alone if you’re a hardened fan of aircraft.
Carolinas Aviation Museum
Charlotte, North Carolina is home to the Carolinas Aviation Museum, a quaint, intimate flight museum that comes under the Smithsonian umbrella. This affiliation can be seen as a badge of quality, ensuring that the exhibits on display in this air and space museum are of the utmost quality.
While the sprawling expanses of some of the largest airplane museums in the USA, discussed above, can be appealing, at the Carolinas the focus is on quality, not quantity. Here, the exhibits are framed and illuminated beautifully, giving visitors the best possible opportunity to take in all of their design features up-close-and-personal and in microscopic detail.
Up in the air? Or still up in the air?
There we have it: some of the best aviation museums in the USA. This list will give any budding air and spacevi enthusiast something to get their teeth stuck into, and it hasn’t been thrown together at random. Astute readers will notice that the museums discussed are dotted around every corner of this amazing country, offering anyone who’s headed East Coast or West Coast the opportunity to soak in some sights from space and sky.
Those true aviation acolytes might even consider attempting to visit all of the museums on this list, which would ordinarily make one wince at such a grueling itinerary – imagine the time spent in departure lounges! If you like the idea of this journey but are reluctant to get going because of the logistics, here’s an idea: get someone else to look after it for you. A well-established name in private jet charter solutions can guarantee to suit any need, and if your itinerary is jam-packed and erratic as you take in some of the best air and space museums in the USA, then don’t worry – all is in their hands now!
Read More: 10 Best Museums In New York City