Midwest Living Review
Pass through a tunnel of brightly painted blue sky and white clouds to reach a darkened main exhibit floor filled with 28 planes, divided into four distinct areas. The first is considered "Beginnings," and includes some of the world's earliest airplanes (some originals, two models and three replicas, including a replica of the Wright Flyer). A 900-foot mural tracks the history of flight, beginning in 1783, when Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier launched the first hot-air balloon. The next area is called "Missions" and includes nine planes used in World Wars I and II, plus a 4-D movie theater that takes visitors along on a bombing mission. A third area honors the "Sentinels at Sea" and boasts five massive aircraft designed to take off and land on aircraft carriers. (One is similar to the planes used in the movie "Top Gun," one used in the Japan-bombing scene from the movie "Pearl Harbor" when Alec Baldwin leads the troops in these huge heavy planes.) The final area, "Journey's Beyond," has one aircraft: the Lockheed SR-718 Blackbird, which was used for surveillance during the 1970s. Want to learn about any (or all) of them? Ask one of the docents (many of whom were military pilots). They are quick to stroll among the planes with you and answer any questions you have. Near the back of the main exhibit hall is a passageway leading to the Air Zoo's most recent addition, the East Wing, which was added in late 2011 and increases the museum's exhibit space by 50,000 square feet. "Space: Dare to Dream" explores the origins of astronomy and early space exploration. From there, you'll make your way through the Air Zoo's space displays, ranging from an early moon buggy to a replica Space Shuttle and interactive astronaut training equipment. Just past the moon rock display is the entrance to a collection of WWII aircraft. You don't have to be a military buff to find these planes interesting. Check out the Skyraider with wings that fold up to fit inside an aircraft carrier's hangar or the Corsair fighter jet with its red-and-white checkerboard nose. These displays aren't new to the Air Zoo, but you might have missed them on an earlier visit. They used to be housed in a distant East Campus building that many patrons overlooked. The Air Zoo's new wing makes sure you won't miss these space and aircraft again. General admission is $8; packages for amusement-park style rides and attractions are available. Overall, the Air Zoo is enough to wow even those who can't tell a Hellcat fighter from a Skyhawk bomber. Open daily.