For a sparsely populated state, Arizona has a lot to offer when it comes to air and space museums. The Pima Air Museum is the best-known of the bunch, but there are others that are worth a visit. Here’s a look at them from north to south.
Planes of Fame (Valle) – If you’re headed to the Grand Canyon, your route will take you through Valle and right past the Planes of Fame Museum (which also has a facility in Chino, Calif.). It’s worth a stop. The centerpiece and arguably most-historic item is a Lockheed Constellation that was once the personal ride of General Douglas MacArthur. It also participated in NASA and is in flying condition at the museum. The collection spans from early propeller-driven planes to Cold War fighters. Most of the aircraft will never fly again. Those still in flying condition are available for booking at air shows. General admission is $5.95.
Arizona Wing CAF Museum (Mesa) – Right now, the Arizona Wing Commemorative Air Force Museum is the only concentrated collection of military aircraft. It’s a small collection, but the aircraft are nicely displayed. You’re not going to see anything too unusual on display here – the F-4 Phantom, P-47 and MiG-21 are pretty standard museum stuff. But the Arizona Wing has the distinction of offering rides in its flying warbirds – prices start at $275 for a ride in a T-6 Texan trainer. Having flown aerobatics in a Texan, I can say it will be an unforgettable ride. The museum’s B-17 Flying Fortress (christened Sentimental Journey) and B-25 also take passengers aloft. You’ll need to contact the museum in advance. Prices vary according to season – see the museum’s Location page for more information.
Pima Air & Space Museum (Tucson) – It’s easy to lose track of time at the Pima Air & Space Museum – 80 acres, 300 aircraft, a wide spread through aviation’s ages. You’ll go from the most primitive flying bundle of sticks to marvels that touched the edge of space. Though there’s not much unusual about a B-17, the docents often steal the show from the historic bomber. They know their stuff. The B-58 is one of of my favorite displays since it’s once of the most distinct aircraft I’ve ever seen. It’s also a wide cross section of civilian and military aircraft. You can also add a driving tour of the adjacent “airplane graveyard” (or 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center, as the Air Force calls it) at Davis-Monthan AFB for a $7 extra. General admission prices here are also seasonal – check the Visiting Info page for the latest.
Titan Missile Museum (Sahuarita) – The museum’s name says it all. But really, it’s the centerpiece, not the lone item. The entire package is a window into the destructive power built thanks to the Cold War. It’s the only place in the nation where you can explore a Titan II missile silo. The staff also offers one-hour and five-hour guided tours. The five-hour versions takes you through all eight levels. You must be 18, able to climb a ladder and be willing to wriggle through holes two feet in diameter. The tour is limited to six people. If a long tour is not enough, the museum is also offering chances to spend the night. Prices vary, and the museum has a lot of interesting options; see the Tours and Field Trips page.