Pros: Free, Great displays of famous aircraft
Cons: Can't see it all in one day
National Museum of the US Air Force
The US Air Force Museum is located outside Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton Ohio, close to I-75, I-675, and I-70.
The museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, except for three days a year. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.
The Air Force has a long history, having come into its own during WWII. But the Army started buying Wright flyers soon after the Wright brothers demonstrated the concept of heavier than air flight early in the twentieth century (1903) with the Army purchasing its first airplanes probably about 1906.
The history of aviation began in the early twentieth century yet the history making idea of the first planes did not dawn on the people involved, (perhaps due to the expense) to the extent that very few early birds were preserved and still exist.
The museum has three large galleries, one devoted to the early years up through WWI and WWII; another devoted to modern flight - post WWII; and a third devoted to Cold War Era flight. There is also an additional gallery that covers missles and space flight which the Air Force has always had a big hand in. I believe each of the large galleries is about 200,000 square feet in size so there is a lot of area covered in airplanes, not to mention hundreds of placards to read.
The Early Years gallery starts with the original Wright Flyer and goes through the various manufacturers, like Curtiss and DeHavilland and many others I never heard of and shows the evolution of the heavier-than-air fabric covered machines that first showed their worth as a weapon in WWI. Spads, Fokkers, Sopwiths, etc all are displayed. The Wright Flyer is from 1908, and in keeping with my earlier statement, nobody thought to maintain any of the early aircraft for posterity, so it's lucky that many old aircraft exist at all.
The WWII gallery covers all the famous fighters and bombers including Bock's Car, the actual B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. It looks brand new, as do most of the well preserved birds.
The Modern Flight gallery shows the early jets like the workhorse F-86 Super Sabre. The F-105 Wild Weasel and the hulking B-52 Stratofortress bomber are also there. There is just so much to see and you can go back multiple times. The actual shells from the various atomic bombs also are on display and it is amazing to see how the size shrunk and the yield multiplied.
The Cold War gallery covers Vietnam, the F-4 Phantom, the F-16 Falcon, and the Stealth F-117 fighters and B-2 bombers that you saw in the Iraq war as well as the crowd pleasing SR-71 Black Bird that flies at Mach 3. Many displays throughout the museum show interesting things like the Berlin Airlift that took place when the Soviets blockaded Berlin in 1948.
There is a great gift shop with tons of books on aviation that will make a non fiction buff drool.
There is a further gallery, located a mile away in which are four presidential aircraft that can be walked through, includiing the Air Force 1 (Boeing 707) used by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.
If you've been to the Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington, DC the US Air Force Museum beats it by a country mile.