Air Zoo In Kalamazoo

Flying Through Aviation History at the Air Zoo Kalamazoo

The Kalamazoo Air Zoo is an attraction that perfectly blends the educational and insightful experience of a museum with the thrill and excitement of an amusement park. Located next to the Kalamazoo-Battle Creek International Airport in Portage, it’s one of the most popular attractions in the Kalamazoo area, and it’s enjoyed by both local residents and visitors from the surrounding area.

This guide to Air Zoo Kalamazoo will tell you everything you need to know about this innovative, family-friendly destination.

Discovering Kalamazoo - The Awesome Mitten
Air Zoo | photo via of Jennifer Bowman

Enjoy a Multisensory Experience at Air Zoo Kalamazoo

On the surface, it seems like the Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum is going to be a museum — and in many respects, it is. This facility is dedicated to telling the stories of time, flight, and space.

The museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian and has been voted the “Best Place to Take Out-of-Towners” and “Best Place to Spend a Day with Your Family” multiple years in a row.

While it began as a museum with interactive and educational exhibits, it has transformed over the years into a multisensory experience for people of all ages. Air Zoo Kalamazoo is a 50,000-square-foot facility with three different floors to explore. This attraction appeals to people of all ages and stages because of the varied exhibits and experiences that are available.

For those who are interested in the history of flight and the role that aviation has played in our society, there are more than 40 different aircraft at the Flight Discovery Center.

For families with young children who need rides and entertainment in order to keep their kids engaged, there are rides, flight simulators, and hands-on exhibits at the Flight Innovation Center.

In addition to welcoming visitors on a daily basis, the Air Zoo opens its doors to group tours, educational experiences, classes, scouting programs, and more. This facility strives to be a place where everyone in the community can come to make memories and learn more about aviation and aerospace. 

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Air Zoo – SR-71 Blackbird

The History of the Kalamazoo Air Zoo

The Kalamazoo Air Zoo was founded in 1977, and at the time, it was known as the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum.

The museum was the dream of two former pilots, Women Airforce Service Pilot Sue Parish and World War II Pilot Pete Parish. Their goal was to preserve military aircraft and share the important role that these aircraft have played throughout history, particularly during WWI and WWII.

An initial purchase of a Beech 35C Bonanza (the same model aboard which Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper met their untimely end) was followed by a Stearman, an AT-6, a Wildcat, and a P-40 Warhawk. In the 1970s, a friend offered them his Grumman Bearcat on one condition — that they open a museum to display it along with their own aircraft.

After the Kalamazoo air museum opened its doors, it grew quickly. Soon, it was known as one of the largest non-governmental museums dedicated to aviation history.

It wasn’t until 1999 that the museum decided to change its name to Air Zoo. The name change was inspired by the many aircraft bearing animal names inside the museum, including the Bearcat, Hellcat, Flying Tiger, and Wildcat.

As the museum rebranded itself as the Air Zoo, it also began to reinvent itself as more than just an educational museum. Between 1999 and 2003, plans were made to transform the Air Zoo into an indoor amusement park, and a new facility was purchased. 

By 2004, the Air Zoo was officially both a museum and an indoor amusement park, and the first flight simulators, rides, and other theme park attractions were available for visitors to enjoy. It became one of the most popular attractions in West Michigan and attracted visitors from far and wide.

By 2011, another renovation was required in order to keep up with demand. That year, the museum expanded into the 50,000-square-foot facility that people can visit today.

Space Suit At Air Zoo
Air Zoo – Space Suit | photo via Rebecca Calkins

Air Zoo Kalamazoo Exhibits

The massive Exhibition Floor is home to the many permanent and temporary exhibits at the Air Zoo. Some of the most popular exhibits at this facility include:

  • Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame — This permanent exhibit was first created in 1987, and it honors the people in Michigan who have made significant contributions to the aviation industry. 
  • Women in Air & Space — This exhibit focuses primarily on the women who made history in the aviation industry, with areas dedicated to explorers such as Amelia Earhart and astronaut Sally Ride. People of all ages will enjoy the interactive timeline in this exhibit. 
  • Alien Worlds & Androids — As one of the largest exhibits in the museum, Alien Worlds & Androids is particularly inviting. This interactive exhibit allows you to learn more about the search for life beyond our planet. 
  • D-Day 75: En Route by Plane and Parachute — This exhibit, which is designed for people of all ages, allows you to experience what D-Day would have been like for those who were there. It’s an eye-opening exhibit that’s powerful and informative.
  • National Guadalcanal Memorial Museum — This extensive space exploration exhibit covers the Guadalcanal Campaign, one of the bloodiest and longest WWII campaigns. It’s known as the geographical and psychological turning point for the Pacific land war.

These are just a few of the exhibits that visitors can explore when they spend a day at the Air Zoo.

Whether you’re a local resident or a traveler just passing through town, you’ll find that there’s always something new to discover at this museum. The curators are constantly working to bring in new and innovative exhibits to the Exhibition Floor. 

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Air Zoo | photo via Jennifer Polasek

Explore Aircraft at Air Zoo Kalamazoo

With more than 40 aircraft on site, you’ll have the opportunity to see the aviation industry unfold before your eyes. The aircraft exhibit area is broken down into several categories: 

  • Early Flight — There are five aircraft in this area, including a Montgolfier Balloon and a Curtis Pusher 1911.
  • Golden Age of Aviation — With about half a dozen aircraft from the late 1920s and early 1930s, this area shines a light on the best years of the aviation industry. You’ll find a variety of aircraft in this area, including a Heath Baby Bullet 1936.
  • World War II — This section is the largest part of the aircraft exhibition, with more than two dozen WWII aircraft on display. You can easily spend hours in this area, where you’ll find a V-1 Flying Bomb 1942 and a Grumman F6F Hellcat.
  • Jet Age — In the decades following WWII, the jet age began in earnest. In this section of the Air Zoo, there are nearly 20 aircraft on display, including a Lockheed F-117 and a Grumman F-14A Tomcat.
  • Space — When humankind set out for the skies and shot for the stars, the space age began. This part of the museum has an El KaBong to see and discover.
  • Kits, Home Builts, and Civilian Planes — This portion of the aircraft exhibit is dedicated to the ingenuity and inquisitive nature of humankind, particularly when it comes to developing aircraft. Some aircraft on display include the Avid Flyer 1983 and the Fokker Triplane.

This multifaceted experience is truly unique as there aren’t many other places in the country, or around the world, that boast a collection as extensive as the one found at Air Zoo Kalamazoo MI.

Col. Jackson Sims' Flight Suit
Air Zoo – Col. Jackson Sims’ Flight Suit | photo via Rebecca Calkins

Rides, Activities, Experiences, and More

It’s easy to spend the entire day checking out the dozens of aircraft that are on display in the aircraft exhibit, but Air Zoo Kalamazoo is more than just a museum — it’s also an indoor amusement park.

These are just a few of the additional activities and experiences that you can enjoy when you visit: 

  • Rides — The youngest visitors to the Air Zoo often want to spend most of their time on the rides, which include the Century of Flight Ferris Wheel, the Flying Circus Biplane Ride, and the Paratrooper Jump, to name a few.
  • Flight Simulators — For those looking for thrills, the full-motion flight simulators are an amazing experience that allow you to see and feel what it is like to be in the air. There are two flight simulators to choose from, both of which are four-minute experiences.
  • Mission Theater Shows — Throughout the day, three different shows play in the Quonset hut-style Mission Theater, and each one provides a different glimpse into the space and aviation industries. These engaging and informative shows are the perfect option for anyone who needs to take a break to rest and unwind during their day at the Air Zoo Kalamazoo.
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Air Zoo | photo via Anthony Rodgers

Dining at Air Zoo Kalamazoo

Most people find that they spend nearly the entire day exploring the Air Zoo, which means that they need to refuel at some point. Fortunately, the Kitty Hawk Cafe is open on site for quick and delicious meals. It’s a fast, casual restaurant with a variety of menu options for visitors, including hot soup, quick snacks, grab-and-go meals, and made-to-order options. It’s open most days for the lunch rush.

Frequently Asked Questions About Air Zoo Kalamazoo

What is the price of admission at the Air Zoo Kalamazoo?

Air Zoo members can enter the museum for free. Non-members will have to pay admission in order to enter. Current admission rates are:

• $15.95 for adults
• $12.95 for seniors over the age of 60
• $14.95 for children between the ages of 5-18
• Free for children under the age of 5

Discounts are available for military members and first responders, and there are also discounted rates for large groups.

Can you bring food into the Air Zoo?

Outside food isn’t allowed inside the Air Zoo Kalamazoo, but there’s a cafeteria restaurant on site for those who need a meal. Outside drinks are allowed. During the summer months, guests can bring a picnic lunch and enjoy a meal on the outside patio area.

Are all attractions open at the Air Zoo?

Some attractions and experiences may not be available due to ongoing restrictions with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, local guidelines and recommendations are constantly changing, and the Air Zoo is continuing to bring back many of its offerings so that everyone can enjoy the experiences that they have come to know and love.

Add the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo MI to Your Michigan Bucket List

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 and aviation-themed carnival rides and flight simulators.

One Comment

  1. Great story. I lived in Kalamazoo for 40years and visited the Air Zoo a few times. I’m visiting town for a couple of days soon, thanks for the reminder for something fun to do again when I am there.

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