The next time you have a day off, head to the airport. These seven airport museums dedicated to aviation are destinations in their own right — and also make for great entertainment if you’re ever stranded with delays.
The 1940 Air Terminal Museum (William P. Hobby Airport, Houston)
Housed in the Art Deco building that served as Houston’s original airport, the 1940 Air Terminal Museum ($5) explores Houston and Southeast Texas’ role in aviation. The focus is mainly on civil aviation, including commercial flight. Expect to see uniforms for pilots and stewardesses, dinnerware, playing cards, and other airline memorabilia. The museum’s hangar has a small collection of business and commercial planes. Tip: After you’ve visited the museum, find a seat on the benches out back and watch aircraft take off from Hobby Airport. Or, pick a spot in the museum parking lot and watch for free. (Just let museum staff know what you are doing and how long you plan to be there.)
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (Dulles International Airport, Washington D.C.)
The companion facility to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center displays thousands of aviation and space artifacts– including a Concorde and the space shuttle Discovery — in its two hangars. Free admission includes a visit to the observation tower, where you can get a 360-degree bird’s eye view of Washington Dulles International Airport and access to glass windows overlooking the national museum’s restoration hanger. Bonus: Ever want to find out what it’s like to barrel roll through your enemy in an F-4 Phantom II jet fighter? For $7, you can test your skills in an interactive flight simulator. An onsite IMAX theater (additional charge) shows films on flight, space, and military history.
Virginia Aviation Museum (Richmond International Airport, Richmond, VA)
It may not look like much from the outside even with the SR-71 Blackbird and F-14 in the front, but inside, you’ll discover 38 vintage aircraft — including the plane Charles Lindbergh really wanted to fly across the Atlantic and the luxurious Vultee V1-A Special once owned by William Randolph Hearst. Additional displays include Stars and Stripes, the first American research plane to fly over Antarctica, and reproductions of the Wright brothers’ kite, two gliders, and 1903 flyer. But this Science of Museum of Virginia offshoot isn’t just a static display of non-flying aircraft. There are also engaging, hands-on exhibits on lift, thrust, weight and drag. $6.50
Frontiers of Flight Museum (Dallas Love Field, Dallas)
Operating in association with the Smithsonian Institution, the 100,000-square-foot Frontiers of Flight Museum ($10) displays more than 30 aircraft, the Apollo 7 spacecraft, missiles, and simulators. You’ll also find an impressive collection of memorabilia, such as artifacts from the Hindenburg, and an in-depth look at Southwest Airlines, which began in 1971 as a three-plane carrier based at Love Field. If you’ve got a young one in tow, check out the family-friendly programs like Engineer’s Week and open cockpit days when kids (and the young at heart) can have their photos taken inside several aircraft and flight trainers.
Carolinas Aviation Museum (Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Charlotte, NC)
Adjacent to the international airport, this impressive collection is housed in what was the original city airport. The main attraction is undoubtedly “Miracle on the Hudson,” the aircraft that crash landed on the Hudson River — though the museum’s entire array of military craft, civilian planes, and helicopters are certainly all worth a visit. Outside, you’ll find three commercial planes. $12.
Bonus: International Women’s Air & Space Museum (Burke Lakefront Airport, Cleveland)
Located in the terminal of Burke Lakefront Airport in downtown Cleveland, this small museum celebrates the role of women in aviation and space. Permanent exhibits include Amelia Earhart, Ruth Nichols, Bessie Coleman, Harriet Quimby, and the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs). There’s also an exhibit on Katharine Wright, sister of the famous Wright brothers.