I am a museum nerd. I love museums, and I especially love the history of space exploration. So when I got the chance to visit the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo — a museum of aerospace and science that shares the history of invention, innovation, war and exploration through over 100 rare aircraft, spacecraft and exhibits — I knew this was the place for me.
When my friend and I entered the museum, we were greeted by a giant smile painted on a single-engine fighter plane suspended directly overhead. The friendly and informative gentleman at the front desk offered us a map and everything we would see inside, which started with a walkway surrounded by a mural of clouds. Traversing the cloud tunnel creates an almost surreal experience of being enveloped by the white, fluffy clouds that take you to up to the sky — otherwise known as the main exhibition area of the Air Zoo.
Once there, we were surrounded by incredible stories of flight on this planet and beyond. Here are the three that stood out to us the most.
Wright Brothers vs. Glen Curtiss
Exiting the hall to the left, we witness replicas and restorations of some of the earliest aircraft created. I had just watched a documentary about the Wright Brothers’ rivalry with Glen Curtis on Netflix called American Genius (Episode 2), so seeing these planes really brought that story to life. A replica of the Wright brothers famous flyer hangs overhead, and several of the other planes bare the name of Curtiss.
Making our way around the floor was like traveling through the earliest stages of aeronautics. Different sizes and types of single-engine planes cover the floor and and hang from the ceiling.
Colonel Jack A. Sims
We were just in time for the 3D show featuring the story of Colonel Jack A. Sims. He was one of the Doolittle Raiders, a troop of 80 men who led America’s first air raid on Tokyo in 1942. Grab your 3D glasses and relax, but don’t get too comfortable because the seats move and make you feel like you’re part of the story. After the show, be sure to check out the exhibit featuring Sims’ uniform, flight suit, parachute pack and more to read on the story of “Kalamazoo’s first flying hero.”
Wernher von Braun
After continuing on through the rest of modern warfare aircraft, including a very interesting exhibit on the Guadalcanal Campaign, we finally moved on to my favorite part, SPACE!
The space section starts with a hallway of people who have inspired space exploration, such as Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Edwin Hubble. One person in particular, Wernher von Braun, stands out thanks to another of my favorite shows, Drunk History (Season 3 Episode 13).
Von Braun dreamed of getting humans to space. However, he got his start by creating the V-2 rocket, a long-range missile, for Nazi Germany. He eventually made it to the United States after World War II, but still all of his rockets were used as instruments of war and not space exploration. Finally it was a collaboration with Walt Disney that helped Von Braun to inspire the American people, who were already starting to dream of what lies beyond. They created a short series of TV specials about the reality of space travel, weightlessness, and future trips to other planets. Von Braun was instrumental not only for Americans landing on the moon but in the continued dream of landing on Mars.
If it’s not already, the Air Zoo needs to be on your Michigan bucket list. It makes the perfect day trip, and even kids will love the exhibits as well as the aviation-themed carnival rides and flight simulators.
What is your favorite story you’ve found at the Air Zoo? Tell us in the comments!