Do you love airplanes? Do you especially love old warbirds and the machines that took to the skies in WWII? You need to plan a vacation to the Dayton/Cincinnati area! Sure, the National Air & Space Museum is impressive, but the hidden gems of aviation history are right back where the Wright brothers first had their little bicycle shop... Dayton OH (and nearby Cincinnati). If you live in the midwest, an aviation-themed road trip makes the perfect weekend getaway.
The National Museum of the Air Force is a place where young and old get immersed in the incredible history of American flight. From the earliest years to the planes that helped win WWII to modern jets and even spacecraft, the exhibits cover the whole history in one place. Of the WWII aircraft, perhaps the most famous is the B-29 on display, Bockscar, which dropped the Fat Man atomic bomb on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945 and led to Japan's unconditional surrender. For us, though, the most interesting part of the museum is a special hangar... The Presidential Hangar.
The centerpiece of the collection is the Boeing VC-137C that served as Air Force One when President Kennedy was assassinated. It was this very plane that carried Kennedy's body back to Washington while President Johnson was sworn in within the cabin of the plane.
A close second in importance is the Douglas VC-54C dubbed the "Sacred Cow". Visitors can tour the first plane built specifically for presidential air travel. Be sure to check out the secret elevator used to hoist FDR in and out of the aircraft. Sadly, FDR was only able to use the plane once before his death, but President Truman used it extensively, signing the National Security Act of 1947 while onboard meaning the "Sacred Cow" is actually the birthplace of the US Air Force.
Other planes include Eisenhower's personal plane, the "Columbine III," and "Independence," the plane used by Truman after the retirement of the "Sacred Cow." Visits to the Presidential Hangar are limited on a first-come, first-serve basis, and the shuttle busses fill up fast so sign up at the main desk of the National Air Force Museum as soon as you arrive. The museum offers two bus trips on Thursday and Friday afternoons and four trips on Saturdays and Sundays.
The Dayton Aviation Heritage Park is comprised of five parks that tell the stories of Wilbur Wright, Orville Wright, and Paul Laurence Dunbar, the fathers of American flight. Walk through a refurnished version of the Wright brothers’ printing and bicycle shops, and even see their third airplane on display. Follow in the brothers’ footsteps over to Huffman Prairie Flying Field, visit the Wrights’ mansion, Hawthorn Hill, and tour Dunbar’s last home. If aviation history is your thing, this is a perfect place for you.
Once home to the WACO Aircraft Company, the largest manufacturer of civilian aircraft in the 1920s and 1930s, today it stands as a restored air field and museum showcasing the aircraft once made by WACO. The museum also offers airplane rides for only $90. Other good times to visit include their frequent special events such as fly-ins.
The showcase of this museum is the giant B-17 restoration project in process in the hangar. The best part? They'll help you work on it during your visit! Walk through the workshop as the volunteers tell you about the painstaking efforts to get this bird back in the air. The museum also features several other vintage aircraft. The museum is free, but we highly suggest you make a little donation. Having taken a ride on a B-17 ourselves in 2013, this place is after our own hearts.
The Tri-State Warbird Museum is a 12,000 sq/ft hangar and 5,000 sq/ft museum display space at the Clermont County Airport outside Cincinnati filled with fully-restored vintage aircraft such as a P-52 Mustang and other planes currently being restored. Step inside a beautifully-done exhibit showing what a air company’s bunks would have been like during WWII and take a look at a gigantic Rolls Royce engine on display in the foyer.
If you're trying to plan your trip and crunched for time (or perhaps not a massive aviation buff) center your trip around the Air Force Museum and try to squeeze in as many of the other stops as possible. Whether an armchair admirer of flight or an avid aviation expert, you'll walk away from your trip to Dayton (and the surrounding areas) with a newfound appreciation for the miracle of flight.