By Linda Holloway, Photography by www.larryhollowayphotography.com
Before the kids can shout “Are We There Yet?” twice, you will have “landed” at the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham, Alabama. Our youngest grandson, Landon, is an energetic toddler who is infatuated with airplanes. Since Landon will be experiencing his first airplane trip soon, we knew the museum would be the ideal destination. Located adjacent to the Birmingham Airport, the museum is the perfect family-friendly day trip.
The Museum was awarded Birmingham Magazine 2017’s “Best of Birmingham” and was a finalist for “Best Museum for Children” by Family and Kids’. From the moment we entered the Aviation Hanger area, Landon was running and gazing upward. First, he would take a deep breath and gasp. Giving it his best toddler vocabulary, he then loudly exclaimed, “par planes.” This happened with each new airplane he spotted.
If you have ever wondered how to double the attention span of small children, the Museum is the place to visit. With Aunt Ashley doing most of the “chasing,” Landon loved it when she placed him in the cockpit of a U.S. Navy A-4C Skyhawk Trainer. Used in the 1980’s, this trainer has children lined up to experience how actual pilots were instructed.
The museum was thoughtfully planned to include a Little Pilots Playroom—a duplicate of the Birmingham Airport, with plenty of adult seating. While my husband wanted to linger longer at the aircraft gems, Ashley and I enjoyed time with Landon in a kids’ world of airplane related toys. There was an entire table of airplanes, including a helicopter—a kid favorite. Landon immediately climbed into the wooden toy airplane and pretended he was flying. The large enclosed area boasts riding toys and a pint size control tower where the kids can explore.
Next door to the playroom is the teen magnet where five flight simulators provide participants with the heart-stopping thrills of flying. Yes, I saw a few adults getting in on the action also. In this interactive space, there is also a Science and Weather Wall. Enjoy the indoor vending machine area with tables or bring a picnic lunch to the outdoor airplane display complete with tables. Here you can dine in the shadow of an F-4 Phantom Jet in the fenced area. Parent Alert! Yes, there is a gift shop, and yes, Landon came home with his very own wooden “par plane.”
Schools, Scouts and ACOS Homeschool Programs
The Museum’s tour guides can simplify complicated aerodynamic principles for the youngest students. The Museum offers guided school educational Instruction tours for the K-12 Social Studies classes as they learn how courageous pioneers made history despite challenges. Others include: Just Plane Science: 2-12 grade and Just Plane Math: K-8 as well as many more! Students will experience hands-on activities where they can build a glider or paper airplane, experience a scavenger hunt, or build a weather instrument to name a few.
The Flight Simulator Lab: Grades 2-12 is a great opportunity for students to experience the challenges of learning to fly on the flight simulators. Ask about the scout program that explores both Girl and Boy Scout merit badge requirements. The Homeschool Aviation History, Science and Aeronautics classes are offered for 8-10 grade. Classes and labs are ACOS curriculum based in science, history and math.
Impressive Aircraft Collection
The Southern Museum of flight presents civilian, military and experimental aircraft from the earliest history of powered flight. Along with 100 aircraft, as well as engines, models, artifacts, and paintings, the Museum is also home to the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame with over 70 biographical plaques presenting Alabama aviation history. The indoor displays are impressive, and a short distance from the museum, you can find numerous aircraft in a fenced area.
Huff-Daland “Duster”: One of our favorite exhibits is an all-original Huff-Daland “Duster.” This fabric-covered, cantilever-winged biplane was structurally designed so that it had none of the wing brace wires that were common to the biplane designs of that era. The Diorama display is set in Monroe, Louisiana, during the 1920’s, when the Delta Air Corporation utilized these aircraft as crop dusters. There is only a few of these planes left in the world today. You can find this 1926 Huff-Daland in the Early Aviation Gallery.
Tuskegee Airmen Exhibit: You will want to take extra time at this Diorama display honoring Alabama’s famed Tuskegee Airmen. This tribute highlights such an extraordinary group of men who continue to provide inspiration. The exhibit features a number of World War II era trainers, including a North American AT-6 Texan, a Vultee BT-13-B Valiant, and a Fairchild PT 19 Cornell.
The “Lake Murray” B-25: This bomber crashed in South Carolina during a 1943 training exercise. The right engine was torn off during the crash, but the crew was able to escape unharmed before it sank to a depth of 150 feet. The aircraft was raised from Lake Murray in September 2005 after 26 years. Lake Murray was where the USAAF conducted training exercises during World War II. The remains of the aircraft were moved to the Museum.
Helicopters Exhibit: The Vietnam War Helicopters Exhibit & Diorama Display depicts a true story of American heroism within Troop C, 16th Cavalry Regiment. It stands as a tribute to all branches of the armed service and honors all who sacrificed in the Vietnam era.
Mi-24 Hind: The Hind is one of the most feared helicopters in history and was the image of the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan in the 1980’s. The Museum’s Mi-24 Hind features massive wing stubs on this five-bladed, 57-foot titanium rotor attack helicopter. The Hind is kown for the double-bubble cockpits for gunner and pilot. The heavily armored Hind was resistant to .50 caliber bullets. This camouflage-painted Mi-24 Hind is the centerpiece of the Museum’s exhibit on the Cold War.
Korean War Jets Exhibit: The unique diorama display of Kimpo Air Force Base in South Korea highlights the defection of Lt. No Kum Sok (Kenneth Rowe), a 21-year old, elite North Korean Air Force pilot, as well as the historic events that transpired following the defection. It features two of the primary fighter jets that became adversaries during the Korean War.
While there are too many to name, other notable aircraft on display include a Wright Flyer, Blackbird spy plane, F-86 Sabre, and a AH-1 Cobra. Plan at least 2-3 hours to explore the Museum.
Fast Facts: The museum offers event rentals from weddings to corporate meetings. It is also a great place for “Little Pilot” birthday parties—complete with tables, chairs and set-up.
Admission: Active Military and families are free. Adults: $7, Children three and under: free. Seniors and Students: $6. Hours of operation are Tuesday-Saturday 9:30 A.M. – 4:30 P.M. Closed for major holidays. For more information call: 205-833-8226 or visit www.SouthernMuseumofFlight.org