Flying a private or military aircraft is a dangerous endeavor, for obvious reasons. Yet, many are drawn to the open skies and the thrill of harnessing the winds, attempting to conquer Earth’s atmospheric forces. In Oshkosh, there is a museum that celebrates that passion, as it holds a collection of replicas, past military craft, cool private aircraft and early commercial ventures. That place is the EAA Aviation Museum.
I just want to say that I’m not an aircraft enthusiast, although I have a short background in aircraft maintenance. If you include schooling, I have spent about six years in the field, flying only one aircraft in that time-that was with an instructor of course. That being said, I didn’t share the same love of aviation as my colleagues, some who could identify any craft flying through the sky. From my point of view, maintaining aircraft was simply a decent paying career.
I do find aircraft interesting, and that’s how the EAA museum left it’s mark on me. I wasn’t thrilled or awed, but delighted by its aura and some of the original exhibits. The museum displays thought provoking pieces, including a craft that never took to the air.
I make a start, as I leave the admission desk behind, into the upper level where two aged volunteers are waiting. A frank gentleman, with a genuine but professional demeanor, spreads a map in front of me. He points out exhibits and gives me an overview. I’m impatient to start, but his presentation is so genuine, I doubt any was truly rehearsed. He inspires a few questions from me and then I’m on my way.
The first thing I discover is purely trivial. It is a great example of how this museum not only has aircraft, but interesting artifacts one might never have imagined. I’m drawn to a propeller piece of a crashed aircraft, transformed into a picture frame. The pilot of the doomed plane, having died in the wreck, was a famed dancer, credited with popularizing and perfecting the Foxtrot along with his wife, who was also his dance partner. Their lives were dramatized in a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie.
As I move on, I discover a full scale replica of Spaceship One. It is one of the most, if not the most, significant aircraft of this new century. Although the original is in Washington DC, I feel that I must include this in my blog. Spaceship One has opened the door to a new era in space exploration, as government programs are not the only players in this relatively new game. This century has seen private craft dock with the International Space Station, and many other individual feats, accomplished by private companies.
This replica demonstrates the first privately owned craft to venture beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. It’s feathering system, entirely changing the configuration of the aircraft, created enough drag to alleviate the extreme high temps of reentry into the atmosphere.
I leave the replica behind and discover my favorite part of the museum- the Eagle Hangar. The military, especially WWII, is on display here, encompassed in a giant open area that looks and feels like a hangar from the period. I enjoy the heroic sights of those aircraft that aided in the war effort, listening to songs like ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ and other war time classics.
Here, along with some vintage war birds, nose art is sprinkled around the hangar. These works of art were a personalized touch, as the aircraft belonged to closely bonded Crewmembers. Although never sanctioned by the military, nose art was not frowned upon, especially during world war II. The loss of aircraft and crewmembers was staggering at the height of the nose art era. I take it as an expression of attachment and pride, even if many pieces were subject to controversy.
There are many interesting aircraft to be seen in the Eagle Hangar, and I’m going to only name a couple. There is the Navy’s F-4 Corsair looking bold in its blue lacquer. Also, a P-51 Mustang known as Paul, named after the EAA’s founder, sits quietly in a corner. I enjoy the authentic cockpit display, something I was once very familiar with, and a turret ball from a bomber.
I leave the Eagle Hangar behind and am off to discover the storied relics lying just beyond its doors. Like I said, there are many interesting pieces, from a world war I trainer (pictured below) to mail carriers. It is compact and, among the many original exhibits, meticulously constructed replicas of the Spirit of St. Louis and the Wright Flyer are here to be investigated.
As I said, the museum pegged my interest meter. One of the most interesting was an aircraft known as an auto-giro, produced in 1931. Its appearance is enough to garner anybody’s attention. With rotor blades above for lift and a propeller for thrust, this odd looking aircraft was the predecessor to the modern helicopter.
It was known as Miss Champion, providing advertisement for Champion spark plugs, a flying billboard. Not only was it used in an advertising campaign, it was also instrumental to archeologists in the Yucatan peninsula, investigating Mayan ruins. With its unique ability to hover, it had an advantage over both aircraft of the time and someone on the ground.
Finally, I’ll leave you with my favorite discovery of the day. Sometimes its not the aircrafts achievements but the story behind it. This craft was intended for racing and was built by Ettore Bugatti, the same Bugatti behind the European performance cars of the 20’s and 30’s. Bugatti’s goal was to break the speed record of the time, his plane was designed to do just that.
WWII interrupted completion of the craft, being stowed in a barn in the European countryside. Bugatti died in 1947 and the plane was largely forgotten for 30 years. Finally, after a few change of hands it was brought to the states. A replica was built and flown twice, crashing the third time. However, this plane has sat Idle, never achieving its purpose for being built.
Besides the artifacts and planes, there are many other ways to enjoy this museum. There are aircraft simulators and plane rides. The rides being offered at Pioneer Airport, across the field from the museum.
I admit, when I decided to go to the museum I wasn’t sure if it would be a waste of time. My conclusion, even if you’re not really into aviation, there are many interesting planes and artifacts to both entertain and educate oneself. The atmosphere, especially in the Eagle Hangar, gives a great sensation as you view these exhibits.
Museum hours: Monday-Sunday 10am-5pm
Adults-$12.50 Seniors-10.50 Students-9.50 Children 5 and under-free
The museum is located right off I-41 in Oshkosh Wi