Maj. Wayne Dirkes piloted the CV-22 during its final flight to the museum. (Don Popp/Air Force)
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The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, will begin construction in late spring on a new building to expand its exhibit space. Even if you’re one of the more than 1 million annual visitors who’ve explored some of the 360-plus displays, coming attractions — and a special spring tour — may give you reasons to return.
Here is what you need to know:
1 The new building. The new $35 million, 224,000-square-foot building, financed by the nonprofit Air Force Museum Foundation, will be similar in size and shape to the museum’s three existing hangars. Opening is anticipated in late 2015.
According to retired Lt. Gen. Jack Hudson, the museum director, the fourth building will provide more educational opportunities and give visitors better access to aircraft and space exhibits.
“There will be opportunities for visitors of all ages, but a special emphasis will be placed on programs that inspire and motivate our youth toward an Air Force or STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] career,” Hudson said in a news release.
2 CV-22 Osprey. One highlight of the new building will be a CV-22 Osprey, which landed at the museum Dec. 12.
The new addition is an “opportunity to tell two stories,” Hudson said. One is the story of the aircraft’s role in the research and development of tilt-rotor aircraft, which combine the vertical takeoff, hover and vertical landing qualities of a helicopter with the range, fuel efficiency and speed characteristics of a fixed-wing aircraft. The other is the story of the CV-22’s use by Air Force Special Operations Command aircrews.
Maj. Wayne Dirkes, a CV-22 test pilot from the 413th Flight Test Squadron, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., piloted the aircraft during its final flight. “From the operator standpoint, it hurts to retire a test asset in such good shape and one that has served so well for so long,” he said of the aircraft, built in 2005 for the Navy and transferred to the Air Force in 2007. “However, we are incredibly proud that it will be in the museum, where it can begin a new public education mission.”
3 Focus on space. The new Space Gallery will feature a space shuttle exhibit and NASA’s first Crew Compartment Trainer, a full-size replica of a space shuttle crew station. Visitors will be able to walk onto the payload bay and look inside the cockpit and mid-deck areas and learn how astronauts trained for their missions.
Plans also call for a Titan IV space launch vehicle, Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft and many NASA artifacts such as a nose cap assembly, landing gear strut and a variety of astronaut equipment.
4 Presidential Aircraft Gallery. Here, the museum will relocate and expand one of its most popular galleries, currently accessible only by bus to a small percentage of museum visitors. Visitors will be able to walk through aircraft used by presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy.
The Boeing VC-137C used by Kennedy also carried his body back to Washington, D.C., from Dallas after his Nov. 22, 1963, assassination. Onboard, President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in to office.
5 Apply now for spring tour. While the new building won’t open until 2015, visitors can register now for behind-the-scenes tours of the aircraft restoration process on Friday afternoons from January through May. Visitors will be guided through the museum’s restoration hangars and will see a variety of aircraft in various stages of restoration, including the World War II bomber, B-17F Memphis Belle, and the newly arrived CV-22 Osprey.
Space is limited, so advance registration is required. Call 937-656-9436 or register online at www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/visit/tours.asp.
For more information about the museum, visit www.nationalmuseum.af.mil.