Weekend Activities – Pima Air & Space Museum

Since I was a young boy, I have always been fascinated with both airplanes and World War II.  One of my fondest memories was when my Dad took me to Washington D.C., which included a visit to the National Air and Space Museum.  Since the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, AZ has an absolutely amazing collection of aircraft, particularly those from the Second World War, I have always wanted to make a visit.  But with having two daughters who spend their evenings hosting tea parties in their princess dresses, when were they ever going to let me visit a museum with stationary planes?  As I have mentioned before, these girls just keep surprising me.

“Bring on the planes!”

A month ago, after getting lunch in Tucson en route to our next activity, the girls were posed their normal weekend question: “Where to next?”  The answer was the Plane Museum, which made me pleasantly surprised.  I obviously had been plugging it for some time, but I never actually expected them to choose it on their own.  So we headed over to the museum, where they were immediately in awe at the site of the giant airplanes that towered over the fence that contained them.  It also helped that the museum had an external tank from the space shuttle out front, which absolutely dwarfed all the cars in the parking lot, getting them even more excited over what giant planes awaited them inside.

Note: We need to watch Top Gun when we get home.

So I could write a very long post entirely on how much fun I had here, but that is not what this blog is about.  The gist is that this was my children’s museum and I was happy that my daughters got (almost) the same level of enjoyment out of it that I did.  I mean, I really do not expect them to get overly excited about seeing a Lockheed Constellation, like I did.  While the size and variety of aircraft in the first hangar made them pretty happy, my girls made me feel like I was doing something right when they not only walked from exhibit to exhibit in lieu of running, but also did not cross a single barrier to get to an off-limits aircraft.  Very proud of them.  In the first hangar, they saw an F-4 Phantom that had flown in the Thunderbirds, an F-14 Tomcat, and an A-10 Thunderbolt II.  They were very impressed by the paint schemes of all of them, but especially impressed by the size of the cannon and cartridges in the latter.  The highlight of Hangar 1 was my favorite aircraft, the SR-71 Blackbird, which was a Cold War-era reconnaissance aircraft.  After their initial amazement at the staggering size of the aircraft, their attention quickly turned to the helicopter ride while their Dad remained mesmerized.  I completely understand, and was really just happy that they walked around it with me before moving on to the next attraction.

SR-71 Blackbird – 0, Helicopter Ride that does not move – 1.  Kids today, right?

By the end of our walk through Hangar 1, it was time for our tram tour, so we headed over to the staging area.  Kudos to the museum, as there was a playground waiting there for us, which helped get out all that energy that they had been saving up.  After some climbing, sliding, and getting water bottles, we boarded the tram for the hour-long tour.  This was certainly the low point in our visit, but only because the girls got bored very quickly.  For me, it was great tour of a lot of iconic aircraft that was led by a gentlemen that really knew his aviation history; for my girls, it was a slow-moving ride led by a man that just would not stop talking, where the only thing do during it was look at stationary planes.  This was when Elaina vehemently stated that “Dad, kids like to do things, not look at things!”  Point taken.  By the halfway mark, I was feeling pretty bad for them, and started looking for the right place to exit the tram (it was not until they got to the larger aircraft, such as the C-130 Hercules and the B-52 Stratofortress, that they began to get excited again).  This opportunity came when they pulled up next to the Space Gallery.  “Girls, do you want to see spaceships?”

Fun fact: Astronauts can apparently wear headbands under their helmets.

The girls excitedly hopped out as I thanked our tour guide and we headed towards the Space Gallery.  In another proud Dad moment, the girls, while absolutely loving the shuttles, rockets, and satellites, were slightly disappointed that they did not see any TIE fighters, X-Wings, or Imperial Star Destroyers.  Again, just lets me know that I am doing something right in their upbringing, as every little bit of positive reinforcement helps.  And in another kudos to the excellent staff at the museum, who upon seeing a single Dad struggling to make the endless, blackness of space interesting to his five- and three-year olds, approached my girls and simply asked “Do you two want to take a picture on the moon?”  Of course, because who would not want that.  They eagerly followed him into a side door, which opened up into an activity center, one that is normally reserved for school field trips.  Space-related puzzles, coloring books, and other activities, with a back-drop on the moon’s surface.  Thank you, Sir, for helping a single Dad out.

No caption needed to show their pure amazement with the B-17 Flying Fortress.

After the Space Gallery, we took a break from “looking at planes” and visited the gift shop and the Flight Grill.  Two F-14 toys, a grilled cheese sandwich, fries, and two chocolate milks later, the girls were fed, rested, and ready to look some more.  I promised them that the planes were going to be big from here on out, and thankfully, Dad did not disappoint.  We headed straight to the 390th Memorial Museum, also known as the Home of the B-17 Flying Fortress.  This was one of the hangars where my daughters were more impressed than me, due to having never seen these historic aircraft before.  I am not kidding, as they did not want to leave the hangar, but instead wanted to keep going under and around the bomber to see it from different angles.  Elaina was especially impressed with the ventral ball turret at the rear of the aircraft, noting that a kid could easily fit in there; not to ruin the moment, I will save the topic of child soldiers for another day.

I think Gabby is making a sign that she is being forced to pose for this picture against her will.

We then headed to the three World War II exhibits, Hangars 3, 4, and 5.  In Hangar 3, the girls came face-to-face with a B-24 Liberator, with Elaina summing up the experience in a single word while staring up at it: “Wow.”  She was in such awe that I did not even want to risk ruining the moment by trying to take a picture.  As I have said before and I will surely say again, it is moments like these that make you truly glad that you introduced your children to a new experience, especially one that they may be on the fence about.  While I continued gawking at the C-47 Skytrain (old 101st Soldier here) and the Norden Bombsight, Elaina tells me to come look at a missile-plane she found.  Sure enough, she had stumbled upon a V-1 Flying Bomb, and once again, I was like a kid in a candy store; after the initial thrill, unfortunately, they quickly became more interest in the barbed wire that surrounded it, which was bad.  While Hangar 5 had a lot to offer, the girls were only impressed by the PBY Catalina because it was displayed landing on water.  Hangar 4 was the grand finale for us and it exceeded expectations.  The girls walked towards the B-29 Superfortress and then just stared up at it in disbelief for about a minute.  Which was good, because it gave me a chance to quickly check out the P-51 Mustang and the F4U Corsair, which they (unfortunately) had little interest in.

“Stop walking away!  This is history, Gabby!”

Needless to say, all three of us had a really good time at the Pima Air & Space Museum.  In fact, as soon as we left, Elaina started asking me when we were going to go back, so long as we did not take the tram tour.  In trying to expand their minds, this activity may have been a little out of their age bracket, but I am really glad that we went.  For starters, we got to partake in an activity that I enjoyed as well.  I mean, I love children’s museums and zoos just as much as the next Dad, but this was much more of an adult activity that we are used to doing.  Upon asking Elaina if she wanted to leave at one point, she mention that she wanted to go, but we could stay because I like planes.  Glad they are taking me into consideration.  Second, it is activities such as this that allow you to determine if future activities are good for them.  For instance, I never took them to LeMay – America’s Car Museum while we lived in Washington because I thought they would be bored, but in hindsight, maybe we should have gone and let them decide if they liked it or not.  Learning more every single day and our adventure is nowhere close to being over.

“Why is this hunk of junk not moving?”

Thanks for checking in on us.  The Calkins Family appreciates you flying with us.


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