Whether they're excited about Amelia Earhart, the Wright brothers, or Buzz Lightyear, a visit to the New England Air Museum in Connecticut is a thrill for most kids with an interest in planes or flying.
Located in Windsor Locks, not far from Hartford and just yards away from the roaring planes that land and take off daily from Bradley International Airport, this aerospace museum is home to more than 100 historic aircraft on display and plenty of hands-on, interactive exhibits sure to fuel their love of science and exploration.
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The New England Air Museum is hidden back from the main road at the end of a long driveway. This average-looking industrial building houses an amazing, ever-growing collection of aircraft, ranging from rescue helicopters to fighter jets and flying machines to a blimp control car. And the absolute best part? This is an incredibly child friendly museum, allowing hands-on access to some of its historic aircraft.
Best Things to Do at the Air Museum
History comes alive for kids as they enter the main hangar of the New England Air Museum, which is stocked full of vehicles from WWI and WWII and beyond, including a Douglas DC-3, Lockheed Starfighter, NAA Super Sabre, and an absolutely huge Sikorsky Excambrian. My son has a hard time refraining from running from plane to plane. The sheer size of the vehicles and the artillery on display is always a bit daunting.
Children can also board a supersonic fighter used to intercept Soviet fighters and bombers during the Cold War during open cockpit events, which are currently on pause due to coronavirus concerns. They can also pretend to be on a combat mission aboard a helicopter used by the U.S. Army in Vietnam or master the control system of a ship-based helicopter used by the U.S. Navy. Climb aboard a U.S. Air Force fighter jet parked outside the Connecticut air museum during warmer months. The ability to sit in a cockpit, push an array of buttons, and have any questions answered (the staff here is absolutely wonderful) is a thrill for any young visitor.
Kids can get into the planes during Open Cockpit events. Photo courtesy of the New England Air Museum
One of the destinations in the air museum that is intended to educate and awe is the hangar dedicated to the B-29 Superfortress. This monster-size plane takes up an entire hangar all by itself (18,000 sq. ft) and acts as a memorial to the crew who flew her. The 58th Bomb Wing Squadron brought the B-29 into action at the end of WWII, flying it all over the world from India to China. The B-29 was received by the New England Air Museum in 1973 but not restored until 1998.
Catch a flight––and a photo-op––with this faux plane display. Photo by author
While some displays might be too detailed to sustain a child’s interest, the exhibits in the three hangars are filled with memorabilia and photographs depicting amazing human achievements. Expect to see the Silas Brooks Balloon Basket, the oldest surviving American aircraft, which was built and flown in Plymouth in the 1870s by Connecticut aeronaut Silas Brooks. Children can ponder this accomplishment, see a hot air balloon basket, and learn about engineers who moved to Connecticut and founded Pratt & Whitney, one of the world’s most accomplished and renowned aerospace companies.
One of my favorite things to marvel at here is the Goodyear Control Car, which is as big as a plane itself. The control car drove the Goodyear blimp during WWII as an anti-submarine convoy escort and was retired in 1948. Its rickety appearance makes visitors respect the bravery that historic pilots must have had.
A new exhibit dedicated to women in aviation is expected to open next at the museum. Once opened, this will be a permanent display dedicated to specifically New England women who have been a part of flying. The exhibit will contain media and interactive displays to teach and inspire. One of the female pioneers will include Catherine "Cady" Coleman, a retired Air Force Colonel.
Volunteers, with flight experience, oftentimes military, are always available to answer questions and to explain the various planes, helicopters, and historical displays.
Kids will thrill to "drive" the planes themselves during special events. Photo by Clementina Verge
Of course, you could also make New England Air Museum a fun stop on your way to Boston or New York City, depending on your destination.
Hours & Admission for the Connecticut Air Museum
The New England Air Museum (open from 9 am to 4 pm) is closed on Mondays from mid-September through May, with a few exceptions. Adults pay $18; children are $10 (ages 4-14). Veterans are FREE and so are children ages 3 and under.
The building is stroller and wheelchair friendly, and parking is free. There's no cafe on site, but there are outdoor picnic tables available in warm weather.
Buckle up and enjoy your flight-related adventures!
An earlier version of this article was published in 2017 by Clementina Verge.