Arizona’s Aerospace Museums & Attractions

By: Elena Acoba

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April 2, 2012

Explore the history of flight at Arizona's air and space museums, which display thousands of old birds at fascinating destinations around the state.

About the author

Elena Acoba

Elena Acoba

Since moving to Tucson in 1988, freelance writer Elena Acoba has enjoyed traveling to the four corners of Arizona. Her favorites spots in her adopted state: the natural wonders and the rich historical sights.

Great weather and wide-open spaces have attracted aviators, air military operations and the aerospace industry to Arizona for decades.

Stop by one of the Grand Canyon State’s aerospace attractions to learn about more than a century of aviation.

Trace the history of flight that has occurred in Arizona, around the world and even into space. It’s a great way to have a high-flying time.

Encompassing Collections

More than 300 civilian, commercial and military aircraft and spacecraft populate Tucson’s Pima Air & Space Museum, the world’s largest non-government-funded aviation museum.

Its impressive collection ranges from a replica of the Wright Flyer to restored B-24 and B-29 planes of World War II, a Cold War-era SR-71 Blackbird and a 1980s European Tornado fighter.

You’ll also find President John F. Kennedy’s Air Force One, nearly every aircraft used in the Korean and Vietnam wars and one of NASA’s unusual-looking Super Guppy cargo planes.

The Pima County museum also is home to several bombardment group collections and the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame.

Established in tribute to the fallen astronauts of the Challenger space shuttle, Challenger Space Center Arizona in Peoria allows visitors to experience the wonders of space travel and the science of the universe.

You can participate in a simulated space mission, follow the stars in planetarium shows or examine the universe through a telescope on family nights.

Exhibits include items that have flown in space, meteorites and space shuttle artifacts.

Military Remembrances

You can fly over the Phoenix area in a restored B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-25 Mitchell or a host of other planes at the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force in Mesa.

The nearly two-dozen planes at the Arizona Wing of the CAF are supplemented with exhibits on the Tuskegee Airmen, the Flying Tigers, WASP (Women’s Air Force Service Pilots) and British cadets who trained in Mesa.

Planes of Fame Air Museum at the Grand Canyon Valle Airport – the Arizona satellite of the museum in Chino, California – houses General Douglas MacArthur’s personal transport, Constellation; a Blue Angels Tiger; and more than three dozen other military and civilian planes.

A tour of Sahuarita’s Titan Missile Museum, the only publicly accessible Cold War-era Titan II missile site, takes you through an underground silo.

You’ll see an actual missile in the launch duct and participate in a simulated launch. The museum, an affiliate of the Pima Air & Space Museum, also houses displays explaining the Cold War.

More than 4,000 retired aircraft await new life at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center in Tucson.

A bus tour from the Pima Air & Space Museum through this Davis-Monthan Air Force Base storage facility shows you military craft awaiting restoration for sale to U.S. allies or being kept for parts to repair in-service craft.

Arizona in Flight

Open by appointment, the small Border Air Museum in Douglas celebrates the city’s aviation history with photographs, articles and artifacts.

At this Douglas aircraft museum, you’ll learn that the small border town had the first international airport in the U.S., why commercial airlines stopped here and how the town played a role in air strikes during the Mexican Revolution.

Yuma residents lay claim to a piece of Arizona’s aviation history at Yuma Landing Bar & Grill, the site where the first plane landed in Arizona.

That October 1911 feat is recorded in a number of period photographers on the restaurant’s walls, as well as with a marker and statue of the flier, Bob Fowler.

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