Aircraft statues just outside of the National Air Force Museum in Ohio

An Amateur’s Account of the National Air Force Museum | Ohio

The National Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH is an aviation history buff’s dream! But, for those with less knowledge of military history (that’s me!), it’s also a great way to spend a few hours experiencing the magnitude of the planes and immersing yourself in the history that has brought the US this far. It’s also budget-friendly because admission is free!

Updated 12/9/23

I am an amateur. Don’t get me wrong. I love history. I especially love reading biographies and even historical fiction. But when it comes to the history of military aircraft, I am a self-proclaimed amateur!

And that’s okay.

The National Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH is the oldest and largest military air force museum in the world! Four hangers are packed with airplanes, helicopters, missiles, and even space innovations used in missions around the world! An amateur is sure to get something out of the museum, even if only exploring for a short time!

Where is the National Air Force Museum in Ohio?

The museum is located in Dayton, OH, just to the east of downtown.

Address: 1100 Spaatz Street Wright-Patterson AFB, OH 45433

Why Would An Amateur Spend a Saturday or Vacation Day at the National Museum of the US Air Force?

1. The National Air Force Museum is Free! (Budget-Friendly!)

Budget-conscious visitors will love this fact! The museum has free admission! You can enjoy all 4 hangers plus more planes outside without paying a dime!

When we asked for a map, the museum gave us one for free. But they kindly asked for a small donation, so be prepared for that.

And the VR simulation rides do cost. But they had a few other fun virtual simulations that were available to the public for free!

2. The Museum is an Introductory Lesson in Aviation History

Okay, I will warn you: it can be a lot of history! But I would suggest starting in the “Early Years Gallary” for a good overview of the history.

There, the museum highlights the Wright Brothers’ inventions and gives visitors a quick understanding of the rapid progression of aviation design, similar to Michigan’s Henry Ford Museum. You will see several gliders, flyers, wind tunnels, engines, and early prototypes. This is a great section to learn the history of flight.

An early military plane painted gray and orange suspended from the ceiling at the National Air Force Museum

Very quickly after the development of the first airplanes, the world fell into the First World War. Thus, the production of airplanes rapidly shifted to more of a militaristic style. Therefore, most of the remaining aircraft at the National Museum of the Air Force will be more military-based, while still boasting a chronological evolution of aviation.

Several early military aircraft with one painted like a shark in the foreground

3. The National Air Force Museum is Massive!

Looking for a good rainy day activity? Or looking for a fun activity to do while stretching your legs on a long trip? Whether you spend a few hours or a full day at the National Air Force Museum, you will not run out of things to see there! It is massive! As mentioned earlier, it is the largest aviation museum in the world!

The National Museum of the Air Force is furthermore sectioned off by each war: World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, and the Cold War. As visitors peruse, one will notice the evolution of the planes chronologically.

4. The National Air Force Museum Boasts Some Awesome Planes!

Memphis Belle

One of my favorite aircraft was the Memphis Belle in the World War II Gallery. The Memphis Belle was the first to complete 25 combat missions over Europe (mainly over France) and return to the States in 1943. The last mission it completed was a bombing raid against German submarines.

The National Air Force Museum took in the plane and restored it in 2018.

B-2 Spirit

Kaleb enjoyed the B-2 Spirit in the Cold War Gallery.

The B-2 Spirit otherwise known as the stealth bomber was developed in the Cold War. The unique shape was designed as a way for the US government to bypass even the most sophisticated radar technology of the time. It was so successful that the general public didn’t find out about this plane for nearly a decade after it was put into use.

Maned by only 2 people this monstrous plane could handle nearly 20 tons of weapons including the capability of handling nuclear weapons.

5. The Museum Has Presidential Planes (That You Can Walk Through) on Display!

Even if you aren’t terribly interested in planes, you may find the presidential gallery interesting. We were amazed at how many of the old Air Force One planes are open for visitors to walk through! We walked through JF Kennedy’s, Dwight Eisenhower’s, and more!

Below is a short video of JFK’s Air Force One plane.

I love biographies and find the lives of others fascinating, so this was, by far, my favorite section!

6. This Air Force Museum Even Highlights Space Innovations!

A small section of the Air Force Museum even holds space crafts developed in the last 60 years, including rockets, satellites, and several test aircraft. Kids interested in outer space may love checking out the spacesuits and the training space shuttle.

There was even a free simulation where kids (and adults) can test out their hands in landing a space shuttle.

And, if they find that interesting, get a picture of your aspiring astronaut in a spacesuit at the National Aviation Hall of Fame on the way out! (Or head to the NASA Kennedy Space Center next!)

7. The Museum Offers Free Tours!

Do you want to fully grasp all that the museum has to offer? Check out the free tours offered by the museum! Tours are a little over an hour long and can be found in several of the galleries starting at various times throughout the day.

8. The Museum Offers Activities for Kids

While I would not suggest bringing very little ones to this museum (unless it’s a quick drop-in on vacation to stretch your legs and let them see the huge planes!), this museum offers a few fun activities for kids.

There were some VR rides available in the Korean War Gallary (in the second hanger) and a free space shuttle landing simulator in the Research and Development Gallery (in the fourth hanger).

Additionally, kids may enjoy walking through some of the planes, which were available throughout the museum. Or, as mentioned previously, kids may like getting their picture in a spacesuit at the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Kids playing VR rides at the National Air Force Museum
A spacesuit that visitors can climb in for a picture
There are steps to help your kids climb up in the spacesuit.

8. The Museum Has Two Cafes- Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Meal Options

We stopped by one of the cafes and were surprised at the size of the dining area! Families could spread out throughout the space. The cafe offered salads, pizzas, burgers, nachos, ice cream, and snacks.

This blog was created for those with food allergies, especially gluten-free and dairy-free. If you have a particularly restrictive diet, you may try their vegan burger or their pre-packaged salads. The food did not seem all that “healthy”, but it’s nice to know they have a few options.

Note: No food (from outside or in the cafe) was allowed in the museum. However, closed bottles of water were acceptable. This is important to note because they will turn away those who try to bring it in. We watched them turn away a woman with baby formula.

Table 33 is also an option for gluten-free meals. And Fusian Sushi has sushi and Asian bowls that are gluten-free and dairy-free.

9. The National Air Force Museum Has a Large Gift Shop

Looking for souvenirs? Stop by the gift shop on the way out for t-shirts, mugs, magnets, and so much more!

Summary of the National Air Force Museum

All my newbie/ amateur aviation historians, I hope this post helps you see that the National Museum of Air Force does not require aviation and war history expertise. While there were several experienced and knowledgeable tourists there when we went, there were also several newbies like you and me… just coming to marvel at the planes and better understand the history of aviation.

The National Air Force Museum is free and perfect for any newbie looking for a budget-friendly activity on vacation or just a rainy weekend activity!

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1 year ago

The oldest and largest Air Force museum in the world in Dayton?? Who knew! What a cool stop!

1 year ago

I love history and my husband was in the Air Force. So we’d love to check out the National Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH. Great guide!

Lisa Manderino
Lisa Manderino
1 year ago

the National museum of the US airforce looks similar to the one in DC. So cool, Love looking at the planes.

Stacey Billingsley
1 year ago

We stopped at this museum a few years ago, and we loved it! I would definitely go again, especially since there is so much to see that you can’t possibly see it all in one visit.

Julie Gaz
1 year ago

Would love to visit the National Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. I’m a big fan of the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels.

Cindy Moore
Cindy Moore
1 year ago

I’d enjoy this museum! My father in law was a pilot for a corporation all of his adult life. I got to fly with him many times. And two of my nephews are interested in aviation. They’d love the museum too.

1 year ago

National Air Force Museum is a great budget friendly. I love history and learning more about the Air Force.

1 year ago

My father-in-law was in the Air Force. I need to tell him about this place. He would absolutely love it! Too cool that you can see past Air Force One planes and that they have some space innovations too.