Put on your aviators, because we’re going to the Aerospace Museum of California (McClellan Aviation Museum) this month! The museum, located in McClellan Business Park, provides an excellent opportunity to interact with and learn about aviation history, guided by some of the most knowledgeable volunteers we have encountered.
We started our tour outside, where there are over thirty vintage planes and helicopters, ranging from tiny pilot trainers to a massive cargo jet. A few of these planes are open for visitors to walk through, and you can even sit in one of them for a photo opportunity. Every detail, such as the replica missiles fitted to the combat planes, is either original or correct for the time period. Each aircraft has a fascinating history, which you can learn about by asking one of the nearby volunteers. Many of the planes (and volunteers) have served in the military, seen combat, and helped to protect the liberties and rights that we cherish.
Some of our favorites were the Jolly Green Giant, a search and rescue helicopter that was shot down during the Vietnam War; the FedEx cargo jet, which was retired due to fuel inefficiency; and the amphibious Albatross, which was used by the Coast Guard on a variety of missions. The F-14 Tomcat, which was used in the filming of the classic “Top Gun,” is also noteworthy. The stories of each aircraft are shared on the museum’s website, but if you speak with one of the many volunteers, they will almost certainly have a personal experience to share.
Moving inside, you’ll find more interactive exhibits at the museum. Several informational films are playing, each with a row of airplane seats. This is also where you can find interstellar travel memorabilia and artifacts, such as three different space suits. There’s a collection of vintage engines, some of which are said to be quite rare. The Fun With Physics stations, a series of puzzles and activities that engage all of the senses in the name of science, were a hit with the kids. The children can also climb into a miniature replica plane or the cockpit of an Air Force jet. You can ride the movie ride theater for an additional fee – much less than at Universal Studios!
Upstairs, there is a play area for the youngest future pilots and a classroom for the more curious. We were able to sneak a peek at the flight simulators used for training camps and landed a plane and fired a few missiles with the help of volunteers. Before returning downstairs, don’t miss the Coast Guard art exhibit or the many small aircraft suspended from the ceiling.
Is it too late to mention the volunteers? I’ve been to this museum three times and have learned so much about mechanics and history each time. All of the people we spoke with were retired military personnel, the majority of whom had spent many years as pilots. They each shared firsthand knowledge and personal anecdotes, bringing the machines to life while assuring me that we weren’t testing their patience. While the museum has plenty to keep visitors entertained on its own, the volunteers make the experience truly memorable.
The Aerospace Museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays. Summer hours are 10:00am – 5:00pm. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and youth ages 13-17, $5 for children aged 6-12, and free for those 5 and under. It is located at 3200 Freedom Park Drive.
Aerospace Museum of California
3200 Freedom Park Dr
McClellan Park, CA 95652
Phone: (916) 643-3192