I've always been fascinated by air travel and we have a couple three very good air museums in the Midwest. There's the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, OH (click here to read about our visit to that air museum), and the Strategic Air and Space Museum about half way between Omaha and Lincoln, NE. (Click here to read about some of the visits we've had to that museum.) Along U.S. Highway 41 outside of Oshkosh, WI is one of the more famous air museums, the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) AirVenture Museum. (see map) I've driven past the museum a number of times over the years, but on a recent trip up to the Appleton area I found that I had some time to kill before I had an appointment with a dealer in Appleton. I passed the EAA Museum and decided to double back and go walk around the museum for a bit.
Each summer, thousands of people fly or drive to Oshkosh's Wittman Regional Airport for the week long International Experimental Aircraft Association Fly-In Convention, or it's official name - the EAA AirVenture. It's the largest convention of its kind in the United States. It's part convention, part airshow and usually has its share of interesting planes on display - including private, commercial and military planes. I've always wanted to attend one of the EAA conventions and I have a dealer friend in Madison who is a pilot. He told me one time, "Oh, man, you'd love it. My dad and I go up all the time and we have a ball looking at all the planes up close and seeing some of the wild things they have flying up in the sky." He said the crowds each day hover between 75,000 to 90,000 people. At the recent AirVenture convention held in late July into early August, there were an estimated 500,000 people that attended with over 2300 planes that flew in. Of those 2300 planes, there were over 800 each homebuilt and vintage airplanes, over 300 war planes, over 100 ultralights, along with a handful of seaplanes, aerobatic aircraft and miscellaneous show planes.
I didn't really know what to expect when I got into the museum around 1:30 that afternoon. It cost $12.50 to get admitted to the museum, but the guy working the cash register tried to get me to sign up for an annual EAA membership for "only" $40 that got me admitted to the museum for free for the next year. I figured that this could be a "one-and-done" visit, or it would be awhile before I'd be back to go through the museum again.
From the lobby area, which also houses a gift shop, you find yourself on a balcony that overlooks the Pioneers of Flight area of the museum that includes a nearly exact replica of the Wright Flyer, the airplane the Wright Brothers used for their historic flight in 1903. There were other exhibits and some audio-video presentations on the Wright Brothers in the area.
Further down the balcony area to the right is an exhibit of racing and aerobatic airplanes. These colorful airplanes are fast, nimble and can be somewhat dangerous to fly. They're always a hit at air shows and airplane races are becoming more and more popular.
After the aerobatic area, I went past the Hilton Theater that has continuous videos of many of the planes on display at the EAA AirVenture Museum to the balcony of the Eagle Hanger (below left). It usually has more planes on display in the hanger, but the EAA AirVenture Convention was held a couple weeks prior to me being there and they had a lot of war planes still out in the Pioneer Airport area of the museum. Still, there were a couple three that I went downstairs to see close up.
Above right is an XP-51 Mustang, a prototype plane that was built in 1940 for Great Britain. This one is the last of the four prototypes that were built as predescessors of the remarkable P-51 Mustang, one of the greatest aerial fighters of its time. The plane was in storage at the Smithsonian Museum until the mid-70's. The EAA took possession of it and restored it to flying condition. It flew in the air show at Oshkosh from 1976 until 1982 when it was permanently retired.
Below left is a Grumman J2F-6 "Duck" plane, the first "flying boat" built by Grumman. It was used primarily for reconnaissance, transport, rescue and depth-charging. The plane usually had a crew of two, but it also had space for a third crew member - primarily a radio man - and two seats under the lower wing for passengers. It was sort of ugly and fascinating at the same time.
I wondered back out into the Pioneers of Flight wing and found a replica of the Spirit of St. Louis, the plane that made the first trans-Atlantic flight with Charles Lindbergh at the controls. This Ryan NYP replica was built in 1977 and was flown around the United States that year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Lindbergh's flight. It was shipped to France in 1987 and flown into Le Bourget Airport to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Lindbergh's 33 hour flight at the biennial Paris Air Show. It was eventually retired and put on display in the EAA AirVenture museum. However, in the early 90's, the EAA built a second replica plane that still flies around to selected air shows today.
Off the main floor of the Pioneers of Flight is the Innovations gallery that includes an exhibit to celebrate the legacy of Burt Rutan, one of the true pioneers of aircraft design known for his planes that were lightweight, energy efficient, and somewhat unusual looking. Hanging on the wall is the Rutan VariVuggan, a prototype plane that Burt Rutan built in the early 70's. Rutan first flew the plane to the Oshkosh airshow in 1972, eventually donating the plane to the museum in 1988.
There was also a fuselage replica of the Burt Rutan designed Voyager aircraft which made the first non-stop, non-refueled aircraft trip around the world in 1986. The plane was piloted by Rutan's brother, Dick Rutan. It took 9 days, 3 minutes and 44 seconds for Rutan and co-pilot Jeanne Yeager to circumnavigate the world. The Rutans had conjured up the idea of a non-stop, non-refueled flight around the world in 1980. They figured it would take 18 months to come up with the design and manufacturing of such a plane. It took them six years.
I had a chance to go out to to the Pioneer Airport, a series of hangers that holds more vintage planes (open from May thru October), but I was running out of time. I figured that I could go back sometime when the Eagle Hanger was full of planes (I'm particularly intrigued with war planes), and then take the tram out to the Pioneer Airport hangers to see more of the vintage planes they have on display. While some of the EAA AirVenture Museum didn't hold my interest as other aircraft museums I've been to, it was enough of a tease to make me plan a second trip to the museum sometime early next summer when I get back up to the Fox Valley area.