Sure the big draw in our hobby would be the Pima Air and Space museum in Tucson – but if you are in the Valley of the Sun, you really should make your way over to the Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum. It has a great collection stuffed into two hangars. And for those who like models, there are plenty of those to admire as well.
There is considerable history related to its location. The museum is located on the tarmac of Falcon Field. During the Second World War it was known as Thunderbird Field III and was home to No. 4 British Flying Training School.
Starting in September 1941 RAF cadets trained in Stearman PT-17 and Harvards. I am thinking the endless days of clear skies and wide open areas allowed for quick training progression. Several thousand pilots were trained there until the RAF installation was closed at the end of the war.
Ultimately it became a civil airfield owned and operated by the city of Mesa. In keeping with tradition, Falcon Field is still training pilots at a massive flight school while also housing the Arizona base for the Commemorative Air Force.
My first visit was in 2013 and I went back in August 2018 while I was attending the IPMS Nationals. I really like the feel of the place – since it is a working hangar, it looks and feels like one. It is also stuffed with all sorts of interesting aviation related information, pictures and models.
I think it is important to note the exceedingly friendly staff at this museum. You are greeted like an old friend at the museum entrance and throughout your visit you have access to the nicest volunteers I have ever encountered. I do not know whether the museum puts a premium on staff friendliness but if they do, it really shows!
Here are some of the aircraft highlights
Since I have the Revell model partially started, I took advantage of this beauty and got a lot of pictures. No matter what, I now know exactly where to place the rigging on this plane! Here is a sampling:
When I visited in 2013, this one was on the ramp. As you can see, you can get up close and even managed some shots of the interior. I’ll admit, I rushed through this one because of what is next.
This is the real draw. In 2013 they did an engine run up and then actually let us climb through it. Yes.. you read that right… a museum that lets visitors climb through the exhibits. During my 2018 visit the old girl was undergoing maintenance and had every panel opened for inspection/work.
I never heard of this plane before laying eyes on it during my 2013 visit. It was being restored. As you can see, they have made a tremendous amount of progress! I know there is a 1/48 kit of this out there. I might have to pick it up.
The collection is amazing. There is a little something for everyone.
Artifacts, Models, Posters and more
There is nothing better than spending an afternoon around real planes and model planes. If I come away learning something, then so much the better. (Side note – I always come away from these places learning something.)
So there you have it. A great little museum in the greater Phoenix area. It is very easy to get to and well worth the visit. If you have been to the museum or taken a ride in any of the airplanes, please let me know in the comments.