Take flight to an air and space museum

Three extraordinary facilities provide visitors with an up-close and personal look at winged history.

August 25, 2010|By Cary Ordway,
  • A family enjoys viewing aircraft at March AFB.
A family enjoys viewing aircraft at March AFB. (Cary Ordway, La…)

People with a fondness for airplanes can find a lot to like when they visit Southern California, where there are plenty of opportunities to see historic aircraft up-close and personal. In some cases, they'll see a lot more than just aircraft. If you have someone in your family who is fascinated by the world of flight, here are some great places to visit.

San Diego Air and Space Museum

The San Diego Zoo gets all the press when it comes to activities in the state's southernmost city, but in the same general area — Balboa Park — the San Diego Air and Space museum displays an excellent variety of flying machines that span the ages from the earliest days of flight to the Space Shuttle. Throw in a 4-D theater, flight simulators and fascinating special exhibits and the San Diego Air and Space Museum is definitely worth a visit when you're in the area.


The museum's current headline exhibit is about space aliens. It consists of temporary exhibits set up to take you through a complete examination of why there are likely to be alien life forms existing on other planets and how and why that might be possible, based on our own scientific knowledge. The exhibit takes you through the usual stories about unidentified flying objects and how the media has helped create certain images of what aliens might look like. Then it takes you into the reality of life here on Earth and how unusual creatures have adapted to hostile environments — miles below the ocean surface, for example.

The museum has an impressive collection of vintage aircraft on display, all organized in chronological order, taking you through the early days of flight, then through the world wars and post-war period right up to the space program. From biplanes to jet aircraft, the airplanes are all in mint condition (a few are reproductions) and visitors can really get a sense of what it was like to fly in these old machines.

If you want to know what it's like to fly in a jet fighter, try out the motion simulator that, for $8 a passenger, allows you to take the controls and "fly" around San Diego. The elaborate simulator will turn you and tilt you and will re-create the sensations of flying much more effectively than any computer game at home. We found the simulated gravitational forces we experienced to be amazing.

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