Model Maker Pilgrimages Part 1 – Museums

I originally thought of this article prior to 2020 with the idea of talking about places that I have visited that may be of interest to other model makers. I was thinking along the lines of some images of historic places, museums or hobby related events and my related stories. However, given the times we live in and the enthusiasm everyone has for 2021, I decided to re-jig this piece and think bigger. This won’t be about looking back to places I have been. This will be about where I hope to go when going places is something we can all do again!

In an ideal situation, I dream big, combine interests and take in as much as I can if I am at a given location. For example, when I went to the 2018 IPMS Nationals, I combined that amazing model show with two air museums, two hobby stores, a side trip to an amazing site of natural beauty and four Major League baseball games featuring my favorite team. I’m telling you, that was a pretty amazing trip.

I am still thinking big and I am break these pilgrimages out into three main areas of interest:

  • Part 1: Museums
  • Part 2: Historic Places
  • Part 3: Events

Part 1: Museums

I’ve posted a number of museum articles on my site and I sure do enjoy me some aviation museums. I also like to visit military museums as well as the naval ones but it’s the planes that get me going. The problem I always have is there is always too much collection to look at and I always find myself rushing and barely taking anything in! I suppose that is always a good excuse to go back.

This list is non-exhaustive. I’d love to see the air museums in France, the UK and even Russia. Hell, if I was in Bangladesh, you know I’d make time to see the Museum of the Bangladesh Air Force. The museums I list below are the ones I am most likely to visit sooner rather than later.

I used to think the relative value of a given museum was tied directly to the size of the collection. However, I have come to realize this is not the case. Having a big collection is one thing but it is also about how it is displayed and how much of it can be seen. For example, it does no good to have a gaggle of aircraft roped off in a dark corner of a cold musty hangar. I much prefer an open air environment with lots of natural light. As well, I prefer the open concept than a structured ‘path’ through a collection. Maybe that is just me.

Just as important as the environment is the staff and volunteers. Yeah, I might know a thing or two about a few of the airplanes on the floor. Sure, I could know a thing or two about the units that flew them or the battles they were in. But that is not the point. The museum experience is about learning more. I thoroughly enjoy speaking with an engaged volunteer who is full of good stories about airplanes or enthusiasm about the museum and I have been lucky to have met a few. Actually, if you run into a volunteer who is walking throughout the collection, my advice take advantage and start up a conversation! We have such a limited time left with these men and women and their stories can be such great treasure.

Ok, let’s get to it. Here are my top museums that I want to visit (in no particular order):

Smithsonian Air and Space – Washington DC

I went to the Smithsonian Air and Space museum back in 1998. I didn’t take any pictures but I recall it was an absolutely fantastic day. I only got to the one on the mall and not the Udvar-Hazy Centre (which may not have existed back then). I mean, where else in the world are you going to see the first airplane, the first airplane to break the speed barrier, the first airplane to cross the Atlantic ocean, the fastest airplane and the Apollo 11 capsule… all in one room? And that’s just the entrance!

I recall seeing a Zero as well as a whole gaggle of navy planes too. And there was an amazing mural of the 8th Airforce:

The mural is amazing

Of course I did not get to visit the Udvar-Hazy site back in the day so it would be a priority on any return visit. I took a look at that collection online and all I can say is “whoa” and I’d better find something for my little one to do because that place is going to take at least 8 hours!

Also they have a Corsair on display so they are completely legit.

Last winter we were planning a trip to DC for April 2020 and I was planning on visiting both sites but, well, you know. Hopefully I can take the family to DC on a nice spring weekend someday. I know everyone would like the mall and I’d be up to catch a Nationals game too.

National Naval Aviation Museum – Pensacola FL

Now that is a cool hi-vis Tomcat in this Kristian Jones photo

This museum is a bit off the beaten path so one really needs to want to see Navy, Marine and Coast Guard planes to make the trip. But with over 150 aircraft on display, I am positive it is worth the drive. And for those keeping score: Yes, this one has a Corsair too.

A -1D….. excellent

I took a look at the lineup of aircraft on display and yowza – this place teaming with a ton of them! As I said above, the layout and atmosphere of a museum is as important as the collection and from what I have seen, this place looks beautiful. I am not sure when or if I will ever be in the neighborhood but if I am within a reasonable driving distance, I will make the trip.

San diego Air & Space Museum – San Diego CA

It has been a very long time since I visited San Diego. I remember it being a laid back town, not too big and there was a lot of stuff to do. I was there in the late 1980s and I know I visited this museum. I also remember jumping on a boat to take a look at all the navy ships in the harbor. The problem is I can’t remember much about the trip aside from that Sea Dart at the entrance. That thing looks like a very angry stinging creature.

But I tell you, there are a lot of reasons to head to this museum:

  • That Sea Dart – definitely one of a kind
  • The Apollo 9 Capsule
  • An A-12 which is much cooler than the SR-71
  • A Zero
  • A Corsair (of course), and
  • A Mustang… in the same markings as the Mustang I built

What are the odds of that? I built my Tuskegee Mustang a few years ago without thinking too much of the decals. But in this museum I would be able to see the real thing… full size.

The inside of the museum looks like it would be a true feast for the eyes. I would really enjoy a day in there but maybe I’d need an entire weekend to keep the fun going all the way over to the USS Midway museum?

All that AND a Corsair! Sweet.

I can’t think of too many other places where you can stroll around on a super carrier and be able to take in such a significant collection. It is just as impressive as the Air and Space Museum. I wonder where I would start? I’ve decided it would have to be at least a weekend so I could catch a game at Petco Park and watch Tatis Jr and the rest of the new look Padres destroy my beloved Giants.

Actually, all this place would need is a model show in the museum and that would be perfect… more on that down below.

The Museum of Flight – Seattle WA

Back in 2015 I had a business trip all planned in Vancouver. I was then going to take a couple of days, cross the border, head on down to Seattle and check out this amazing museum. I was going to catch a ballgame too. Well, that trip got scrubbed and it’s too bad. What a gorgeous museum. Just look at that collection! In particular I’d love to see these bad boys:

  • A First World War Albatross
  • A Lunar Lander, an Apollo capsule, and a Lunar Rover, oh my!
  • Boeing 100
  • A Concorde?
  • The Darkstar
  • A Lightning
  • A Soyuz? Seriously? Where did they find that?

Since I rank the quality of museums by the number of Corsairs on display, this place ranks rather high. They have two! There is an F4U-1D and it is the only place to see one of these:

That, my friends, is a Super Corsair!

My buddy Jim at A Scale Canadian tells me that his local IPMS regularly hosts a Show and Contest at the Museum. Now imagine that. A model show and contest under and around all these amazing airplanes. This is definitely something I want need to do. Perhaps this entry needs to be in Part 3 – Events because that sounds exactly like the kind of show I’d enjoy:

Let’s see… Museum of flight, model show, and a ball game…. Oh man, that would be amazing and the first beers are on me.

Last thing

I realize this list is focused on one part of the planet and that is because, as of the time I am writing this, I really can’t see myself travelling much further.

But I certainly want to!

I’d love to go back to Hendon and I’d love to see Le Bourget. A friend of mine, who isn’t into airplanes, sent me pics of her trip to the Soviet Union Russia and her visit to the Central Air Force Museum. Sure, there is a disturbing lack of Corsairs but the collection would be very cool to walk around in nice weather. Like I said, I love going to these places; no need to twist my arm.

So, I’d like to hear from you in the comments. What do you think of my list? Have you been to any of these museums and if so, what were the best parts? Also, which museums did I miss? I’d like to know what museums you would visit if you could or which one was your favorite and why.

Up next will be Part 2 – Historic Places.

15 thoughts on “Model Maker Pilgrimages Part 1 – Museums

  1. The first time I went to Mecca…er…the Smithsonian Air/Space Museum, the Udvar-Hazy Centre didn’t exist yet (opened in 2003, I think). However, the Garber Facility did! GF is where the museum kept some of the aircraft not on display and it was their restoration facility (now done at Udvar-Hazy). When I was at the GF facility, they were getting the Enola Gay ready for exhibit. I was THIS CLOSE (holds fingers an inch apart) to the Enola Gay! I found the NASM in Washington to be more educational (with GREAT exhibits) and the Udvar-Hazy Centre more about planes, planes, and planes with less information and just more displays. Last time I was there was 2016. I wanted some shots of the Blackbird #972 that I was going to build. Word on the street is that you like Corsairs. My nipple-tightener is the P-38. The one on display at the Udvar-Hazy Centre had been assigned to Wright Patterson (and had been flown by Dick Bong during a stateside stint).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. PS- There’s a great museum at New England Air Space Museum, Windsor Locks, CT. If you check their schedule you can visit during one of their open cockpit weekends where they let you sit in some of the exhibits. Sure, we all know the P-47 was big. You wanna get an idea of that? SIT in one!! That can be done at NEASM.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great list! Pensacola is one I’ve never been to but must see. I’d love to take an RV and just go across the country from museum to museum. Add the Air Zoo at Kalamazoo MI to your list, well worth the trip and they have a Corsair too!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Another one to consider visiting is Castle Air Museum in Atwater, California. It was nearly one of everything flown post-WWII by the US Air Force during the Cold War and a CF-100 Canuck. It also has some rare WWII aircraft like a B-18 and B-23. It also has the only Avro Vulcan bomber on display in North America. My favorite was seeing the massive B-36, the scale is like nothing else!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hale, the two on your list that you have to see are Udvar-Hazy and Pcola. I highly recommend Pcola as not only is the museum amazing (I’d argue it is the best aviation museum I’ve ever been to) but that part of Florida is wonderful and makes a great vacation for the family.

    Liked by 1 person

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