Flying in Alaska is as natural as breathing. Even the state’s smallest residents, by virtue of location, are seasoned air travelers by the time they start school. Airplanes dominate the skyscape as often as birds, especially in Anchorage, where the nation’s busiest seaplane port, Lake Hood, sees hundreds of take-offs and landings every day. Ted Stevens Anchorage International is quite the busy place, too, between cargo and passenger flights. Kids fly like other kids drive, so it’s no wonder their interest is piqued at an early age.
One of the best places to capture the essence of air transportation sits just south of downtown Anchorage. Not fancy, but chock-full of aircraft magic, the Alaska Aviation Museum is sporting a new set of exhibits to impress its visitors. Tucked in between Rust’s Flying Service and the shores of Lake Hood, the museum is but an 8-minute walk from Anchorage International, easily accessed by passengers with long layovers (or via taxi during nasty weather). Those driving from downtown can find the museum via Postmark Drive from International Airport Road, an easy-peasy trip of just a few miles.
We visit the Aviation Museum at least twice a year, usually once during the busy flying season of summer, and once when winter’s icy grip sends our family scrambling for an indoor activity. Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. May-September, and Wednesday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday noon-5 p.m., the museum relies heavily on volunteer support for the bulk of its operations, an excellent maneuver since most of these docents are also pilots themselves and love to talk airplanes.
The museum boasts both indoor and outdoor exhibit space, and a restoration hangar that features aircraft in various stages of dress and/or undress; a favorite among the men in my family who love to wander the oily, chilly depths of the workshop, asking questions and listening to stories from equally-oily volunteers. Boo-ya.
Outside on the museum’s tarmac sit three large planes of note; an Alaska Airlines 737-200 Combi (passenger/cargo plane), a nifty F-15 fighter jet, and a Northern Air Cargo DC-6. Feel free to wander underneath and around these air giants, allowing kids to touch the sleek skins of the craft before heading inside to inspect a fleet of historic airplanes and absorb the story of aviation in Alaska.
Believe it or not, Alaska’s first airplane took off for a short flight in 1913, and ever since then, with the help of industrious pilots like Noel Wein, Bob Reeve, and Carl Eielson, air travel in the far north has never been the same. Travel back in time with the interesting Hall of Fame display, see a super exhibit from the early days of Wein Airlines, and watch a great film about Alaska’s early days of flight in the Reeve Toolshed Theater.
AK Kid’s favorite part, however, is Hangar 3, where kids are given a real-time opportunity to test their airplane mettle in the cockpit of a real 727, or a space shuttle, or, perhaps, a float plane. Yessir, the museum certainly has reached star-status with our family. Between the new space shuttle cockpit, the antiquated 727, and a cute little yellow helicopter complete with foot pedals, enough buttons and knobs and levers exist to make any kid thrill at the chance to be pilot-for-a-day. Four hangars in all make for a great afternoon of history and activity, and for a reasonable price; $10/adult, $6 kids 5-12, $8/seniors. Discounts are available for military and groups, too. The Alaska TourSaver coupon book also offers a two-for-one deal through December 31, 2011 on adult admission, a great way to take advantage of the museum this year.
There is no food service available, but we usually bring our own snacks and take a time-out in the common area of Hangar 1. Do bring warm clothing during the winter months if venturing outside; the winds can be biting and the Restoration Hangar is always cold.
It may not be as fancy as other air museums, but with ever-increasing exhibits and a definite desire to educate visitors to the importance of air travel in Alaska, the Alaska Aviation Museum is a great option for families, no matter the season.
Find the Alaska Aviation Museum at 4721 Aircraft Drive, Anchorage, 99502. 907-248-5325.