The National Museum of the United States Air Force can feel like a window into a secret world, especially for civilians. Three cavernous airplane hangars sprawl across 17 acres and showcase everything from World War I-Era surveying blimps to top-secret military drones. Touring a few football fields worth of airplanes may not be on everyone's top 10 list, but even aviation amateurs should be able to find something to love.
One hallway houses a glass case full of mannequins sporting original bomber jackets with hand-painted drawings of sultry women and goofy nicknames. An exhibit in the Cold War Gallery offers visitors the chance to take a simulated ride on an aircraft; near the Southeast Asia War Gallery is a display of more than 500 meticulously crafted miniature airplane models on loan from the museum's first chairman, Eugene Kettering. There's also a small area devoted to the National Aviation Hall of Fame, where five new inductees are added each year. The scope of the museum is breathtaking—planes fill every corner and dangle overhead at every turn. Floodlights focused on the planes leave much of the museum's upper reaches shrouded in shadows, lending a solemn air to the historic sights. A visit to the museum, the largest and oldest of its kind in the nation, could take all day. The on-site Valkyrie Cafe offers sandwiches and pizza, but many families congregate outside in the extensive memorial park to eat a picnic lunch. For true flight fanatics, call ahead if you want to try to nab a spot in one of the Behind the Scenes tours offered on Fridays.