The Pima Air and Space Museum is near Tucson next to an Air Force base and is about 40 miles from where we are staying in Benson. In many ways it is on par with the Pensacola Naval Air Museum in Florida. There are an awful lot of planes here from all different eras but the big difference is that the Pima Museum got it’s start as an airplane boneyard, a place where airplanes went to die. Some local hobbyists got together and started restoring some airplanes and it took off from there. The Pima Museum has several large hangers where planes are displayed but most the planes are outside and in various stages of repair. This also means that the Pima Museum has a lot of very large airplanes that we haven’t seen before.
It also has some very small ones. Just inside the entrance was the smallest airplane ever built. It was built just to meet that record and was called the Bumble Bee. Right next to it was a Bede 5, the smallest jet aircraft ever built. The Bede 5 had been detailed in Popular Science a number of times back in the 1970’s and I had drooled over it at the time. There was also the world’s smallest helicopter, built to be worn on a soldier’s back. It was flown about 20 times and then the project was canceled because it was too dangerous.
The museum offered a tram ride to view the airplanes displayed outside and we took it. It was a bit over an hour long and showed off all of what they considered to be their more important airplanes. I’ll have to be honest and say that a lot of the fine details were lost on me, particularly when they had three different versions of the same airplane next to each other. Nevertheless there were a lot of airplanes we had never seen before and it was all very interesting.
Although the museum mostly had military planes there was also a TWA Constellation from the 1950’s. I had flown on one in 1956 to Michigan with my brother Dan and my mother when she was pregnant with Kevin. My father drove our VW Bus across the country and met us there. I remember running up and down the aisle and probably made a horrible pest of myself.
There was other memorabilia as well including some nose art from WWII.
There was a hanger devoted to the X-planes and space exploration but I have to say this was a disappointment. There were hundreds and hundreds of small items all jammed next to each other with no particular rhyme or reason. When the displays had a label (and many didn’t) it was frequently small and hard to read. Other than some general sections (X-planes, manned space program, robot explorers and the planets) we were never able to make much sense out of the displays. That’s too bad because we had both been looking forward to this part of the museum.
Despite the disappointment of the space displays, we mostly enjoyed our visit to the museum and think it was well worth the trip. The path to the Space Hanger was gravel and rutted but we would otherwise give the Pima Air and Space Museum a B for handicap accessibility. All of the bathrooms were handicap accessible and the paths to the other hangers were paved. Susan was able to get into the tram with a bit of help but anybody that was wheelchair bound would not have been able to get on. Although you are allowed to walk around and see all the planes outside it was mostly dirt and gravel and it would have been hard to push Susan’s wheelchair.