Visiting the air and space museum in South Dakota is often inspirational, even for people who didn’t come to the museum with an interest or understanding of aviation and its history. Visitors should expect to spend a few hours here to take in all of the impressive aircraft and educational exhibits offered on-site.
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Established just outside the front gate of the air force base in 1992, the air and space museum were the brainchild of the heritage foundation that was created in 1982 to help support and encourage the preservation of historic aircraft that were on display at Ellsworth. The mission of the museum is not only to continue to preserve the aircraft, but also to preserve the history of aviation in general, to help honor veterans (not only those that served at Ellsworth but all veterans across the nation), to help offer education for students, and (most of all) to provoke and inspire future generations to continue to innovate aviation.
The museum highlights aviation in its many different facets though a variety of galleries as well as exhibits not only about aviation but also featuring actual military aircraft and missiles. They are divided up between exhibits that are located inside the museum and those that are located outside the museum.
Indoor: The galleries located at the indoor portion of the exhibit focus on aerospace and aviation engineering, science, history, and innovation. Looking at them through the lens of military history, the gallery celebrates how much innovation has played a part in aviation as well as looking forward to what aviation may bring in the future. There is also a selection of aircraft located in the indoor section that show the rich history of aviation in the United States. This area also looks at the history of the Cold War as it relates to aviation, some of aviation’s pioneers, as well as the history of the Air Force Base the museum is located on (Ellsworth). It makes sure to return to the history of aviation in South Dakota as well, tying everything back to the state’s impact on the nation and even the world when it comes to aviation.
Outdoor: The outdoor galleries and exhibits number over 30, and add the beauty of the Black Hills in the background. Visitors should make sure to check out the actual aircraft on exhibit - like the H-13 helicopter or the B1B Lancer airplane. These aircraft have been restored with historical accuracy and each aircraft on display comes with information on their history and the impact it had on aviation in general.
Guests to the museum should also make sure to check out the Aviation Hall of Fame. This huge and inspiring wall the beautiful bronze plaques tell the story of some of aviation’s greatest characters. Learn about their history as well as how it impacted the legacy of aviation in America. Full of inspiration, innovation, and invention, the wall will show guests just how many people have had their hands in leading aviation to the prominent place it occupies in America.
Tours are offered at the museum free of charge and are first come, first serve.
Although the museum does offer free tours, many visitors and groups to the air and space museum may be interested in taking a tour of the entire air force base as well. Available from the middle of May to the middle of September (although tour options are more limited toward the end of the season). This tour is offered by air-conditioned bus and takes about an hour. It is led by a tour guide and video equipment as well as cameras are permitted. No reservations are required, but tours are offered first come, first serve so guests should be aware that there may be a wait. There is a cost required for adult guests, as well as a discounted cost for children under the age of 12. Group discounts as well as student discounts are available. Student field trips are only available in May and September.
The air and space museum are home to a gift shop that focuses on one of a kind items related to aviation. Check out the apparel (the hoodie is a favorite, but they also offer t-shirts, hats, etc), the novelty items, educational resources for both children and adults, and other toys and gifts. The gift shop is open when the museum is, with the exception of January and February when it is closed.
South Dakota Air and Space Museum, 2890 Davis Drive Building #5208, Ellsworth AFB, SD 57706, Phone: 605-385-5189