I grew up with a love and fascination for airplanes, and yes, I was one of those kids whose ceiling was completely bedecked in hanging 1:72 model kit airplanes that I had built and painted myself. So naturally, visiting airfields and air museums is an absolute must for me, which explains then why I just stood there maniacally grinning like an idiot when this sight finally rolled into view during my day of Balboa Park explorations:
A Convair YF2Y-1 Seadart and a Lockheed A-12 Oxcart (precursor to the legendary SR-71 Blackbird)?!? Yeah, this place will do just nicely thank you very much. Housed in the former Ford Building, the San Diego Air & Space Museum opened to the public in 1963 and promotes itself as one of the largest aviation museums in the United States, with two restoration facilities, one on site, and in a similar fashion to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum with its Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, another located at nearby Gillespie Field Annex.
San Diego has of course a long history and connection with both the aviation industry and the United States Navy, and as such, together with its large library and archive holdings, the museum is packed from floor to ceiling with a mix of reproduction, replica, and authentic pieces. The museum is split into a number of distinctive galleries, including a World War I Gallery, a Golden Age of Flight Gallery (1919-1939), a World War II Gallery, the Modern Jet & Space Age Gallery, the Theodore Gildred Rotunda (celebrating San Diego’s contribution to aviation), and finally the Edwin D. McKellar Pavilion of Flight, which at the center of the museum acts as the museum’s event and relaxation space, though that said, you are expected to relax in this courtyard space while surrounded by a Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina, Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17, Ford 5-AT-B Trimotor, and Bell AH-1E Cobra of all things!
As with all good museums, this one is packed full of both information and planes, and it was an absolute joy to take my time absorbing as much of it as what I possible could – from strolling through the WWI section with its compact but complex fighter planes of the era like the Sopwith Pup, SPAD VII, Albatross D.Va and the intriguing Fokker Dr.I, lingering in the Golden Age of Flight Gallery with its streamlined beauties like the Gee Bee R-1, Pitts Special, and Ryan STA, to marveling at the WWII display of so many of the planes which had filled the action stories of my childhood, like the Supermarine Spitfire Mk.XVI, Curtiss P-40E Warhawk, North American P-51D Mustang, Horton 229 Flying Wing, Douglas SBD-4 Dauntless, Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat, Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat, and of course my person favourite, the exquisite Mitsubishi A6M7 Zero!
The Space exploration gallery itself was also super informative with a great selection of spacesuits, satellites and vehicle mockups on display, but it was that finishing flourish of the gleaming blue and yellow F/A-18 A Hornet “Blue Angel 1” that really ended off my visit on a high note – I mean how can you not just love this beauty:
So sure, it may not be the biggest air and space museum that you’ll ever visit, but in terms of depth of collection it most certainly is one of the more special ones, and with a plethora of knowledgeable veterans and volunteers milling about and eager to chat, the San Diego Air & Space Museum is most certainly well worth a visit for any budding aviation enthusiast. Naturally, many photos were taken.
So not bad for a single trip to the USA then – both the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum and the San Diego Air & Space Museum done and dusted, plus spoiler alert, on my way out of the States I even managed to squeeze in a last minute trip to the incredible Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. So yeah, younger Craig would probably have died of excitement just at the thought of all these sightings! :D