The Museum of Flying on Airport Avenue in Santa Monica, (over by the Santa Monica Airport) tells of Los Angeles’ role in the history of aviation. Back in the barnstorming, wing-walking days, air flight evolved rapidly with Santa Monica in the thick of it. The story presented by the museum takes visitors on the journey of manned flight from the earliest days, through wars, and the development and growth of commercial planes. Along the walls and in displays are paintings, models, browned newspaper articles, and photographs from the early 1900’s onward. On the floor, planes sit as if ready to fly again.
The day I toured the museum I joined up with a friendly group. Everyone meandered among the planes and chattered with delight. They peppered the tour guide endlessly with questions about the vintage airplanes and famous persons. It was interesting and fun. If you’d like to get up close to the aircraft go ahead and plan a trip. The kids will enjoy it too. There’s something about flying and the aircraft that captures their imagination. Go to www.museumofflying.org for directions and other specific information.
When you go you’ll know when you’ve arrived at the museum. There’s a DC-3 poised in liftoff toward Airport Avenue. Oh, yes- you’ll see the nose of a 727 sticking out the front wall of the museum and vintage jets sit next to the front door.
My visit through the museum started at in front of the full size replica of the flyer Orville and Wilbur flew at Kitty Hawk in 1903. Don’t miss it. Their story detailed how they overcame the problems of getting a power driven heavier-than-air flying machine to carry men into the air, safely. (The flyer’s wingspan measured about 40.3 feet, weighed 605 pounds, and had a 12 horsepower engine.) It’s a story of determination and ingenuity.
Other Aircraft that captured our attention were unique pieces such a 1959 Roadair, a combination automobile and aircraft (invented by Herbert L Trautmann), the BD-5 Microjet (seen in the opening scene of the James Bond movie, Octopussy), and the Monnett Monerai Sailplane– N450SP (a homebuilt kit sailplane- Sweet!)
Remember that 727 sticking out of the front wall? Well, those who secretly harbored a dream of becoming a pilot got their chance to sit in the pilot’s seat of that 727 cockpit. Reality check. That dream evaporated when they found themselves surrounded front, side and overhead with the dozens of dials, levers, and switches. Earning the coveted Flight Wings got erased from a lot of bucket lists that day.
Some dreams need a stronger dose of reality so the museum had a Maxflight Simulator FS3000 waiting for the brave-hearted. Yep. For a small fee, you sit in the simulator and take control. I’m told that the simulator can give you a 360 degree roll and pitch in high definition 3D, as you simulate flying. Your choice of aircraft could be a zippy Lear Jet, a quiet easy-going DC-3 from olden days, or a WWII P-51 or P-38 fighter. No one in our tour group took the time to try it, but a line of kids was waiting- to test their mettle in simulated air combat, no doubt.
One more note about Los Angeles’ history with aircraft- an interesting side note really. Donald Douglas, founder of Douglas Aircraft Company, located a factory in Santa Monica. During WWII the company supplied the military with aircraft such as the B-17 Flying Fortress, the SBD Dauntless (the dive bomber that helped win the Battle of Midway and turned the tide of the war) and the A-26 Invader (the “glass” nose bomber).
To protect the Santa Monica factory from enemy attack an entire fake neighborhood was created. With the help of Hollywood studios a complete bogus neighborhood with roads, houses with fake laundry on the line, fake trees and walkways was erected and suspended on twenty-foot poles over the entire factory. Oh, yes, a bogus airplane factory was also created next door as a diversion from the real site. For photos of the concealed aircraft plant go to Imagine Santa Monica, Santa Monica Digital Library.
It’s interesting how, today, we take air travel for granted. The museum did a great job of presenting the history of flight with vintage planes and artifacts and explained how people and events made air travel, as we know it today, possible. I hope you enjoy the museum as much as I did.
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Here are posts of other Uniquely Los Angeles destinations you will enjoy reading about. If you’re looking for a pleasant outing be sure to take time and plan a visit.
LA’s most unique destinations, include these archived posts:
-Friends, Romans, and …Angelenos
-Bradbury Building-A Lasting Gem in Los Angeles
-The Last Book Store
-The Magic Castle
-Grauman’s Chinese Theater
-Page Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits
-Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
-Rose Bowl Stadium