The San Diego Air and Space Museum has a diverse collection of spacecraft and aircraft, teaching visitors about both the history and the development of aviation while also educating about devices that have been used in space. In the 100,000-square-foot museum there are more than 90 full-scale aircraft replicas, special exhibits, and galleries to visit. It is a popular museum, and the story behind the historical building housing it adds even more character to the exhibits.



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The history behind the building of the Air and Space Museum began in the 1930s during the California Pacific International Exposition. The Ford Company constructed the building for the exposition, which brought in 2.5 million visitors. However, when the exposition ended, the Ford Building closed its doors to the public, although it was used for various purposes, including an aviation vocational school, a plant, an artillery storage site, a shooting school, a bomb shelter, and a theatre storage center, until it eventually became the Air and Space Museum in 1980. Prior to the opening of the museum, the building was completely restored; however, traces of the old Ford Motor Company can still be found. The exhibition Wheels to Wings and the Ford automobiles as well as the aircraft on display tell the story of the old Ford Building, which celebrated its 75th year in 2010.

The Air and Space Museumhas exhibits on both aircraft and spacecraft, displayed in a chronological order. It begins with the first planes ever created, such as the Wright Glider from 1901, and continues to the era of the Space Age. Since the opening of the museum, the collection of aircraft has grown from 25 to 80. This includes replicas of some of the most well-known planes such as the NYP-3 Spirit of St. Louis. This aircraft was flown in 1927 by Charles A. Lindbergh on what was the famous first non-stop flight from New York to Paris. The Supermarine Spitfire MK XVI is a well-recognized aircraft for its use as a fighter plane during World War 2 and is known for its use in the Battle of Britain in 1940. There is another famous aircraft replica in the museum called the Fokker Dr.1, which is associated with one of Germany’s top pilots during World War 1, the Red Baron. Other aircraft on show at the museum are the 1901 Wright Glider, the Mitsubishi A6M7 Zero-sen, the Convair F2Y Sea Dart, and the Bell X-1. The aviation collections display more than just airplanes; there are also a Montgolfier hot air balloon and helicopters. Following the section on planes, there are exhibits featuring many objects used in space, such as Apollo 9, the Gemini spacecraft, and the Boeing GPS-12 satellite.

Currently, there are four special exhibits featured at the San Diego Air and Space Museum; these are Be the Astronaut, the Atlas Rocket Exhibit, American Women of Flight, and Kid’s Aviation Action Hangar. These are specific exhibits that encourage learning through interactive adventure. Be the Astronaut allows visitors to be in control of launching a rocket, being a pilot in a spaceship, and driving a rover. The Atlas Rocket Exhibit uses the media of graphics and videos to tell the story, beginning in the 1950s and lasting until the present, of the Atlas rocket series. American Women of Flight pays tribute to women who influenced the world of aviation. Some of the women featured here are Jacqueline Cochran, Fran Bera, and Bessie Coleman. The Kid’s Aviation Action Hangar is a section designed especially for children to learn through playing with kid-friendly attractions. The San Diego Air and Space Museum now also offers the BEAM Tour Program; this is a virtual tour that is easy to use with software that is available for desktops. This is inclusive experience, enabling visitors who are physically restricted from visiting the building to tour and view the exhibits. The free program allows visitors to use a virtual presence device to discover the museum independently while being accompanied by an in-house docent.

There are many featured events in the Air and Space Museum, such as the Aerosummer Registration and the Annual Charity Golf Tournament. The museum also offers classes on air and space history through interactive and hands-on activities. Students launch model rockets, build model airplanes, and fly simulators. The Annual Charity Golf Tournament takes place every summer to provide educational experiences to students from San Diego through scholarships and classes. There is also an enclosed courtyard in the museum that can be used for special events.

2001 Pan American Plaza, CA 92101, Phone: 619-234-8291

Back to: San Diego, CA

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