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It’s easy to forget that barely more than a century has passed since Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first successful airplane in Dayton, Ohio.The intervening 115 years has produced enough artifacts and knowledge to fill dedicated museums around the world.The greatest aviation museums capture the achievements and products of the pilots, designers and engineers who completed those rickety first flights then set their sights on space while we were just trying to ignore the guy clipping his toenails in seat 17B.Thankfully, there’s no need to fasten your seat belt, shut off phones or worry about turbulence and legroom to enjoy the world’s best aviation museums.Just enjoy the ride.
Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum, Denver, Colorado
With 182,000 square feet of exhibits on the grounds of the former Lowry Air Force base, Denver’s Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum has enough to command more than a few hours of anyone’s time.Among exhibits that span the history of aviation in the United States is one automotive surprise: The museum houses the “Spirit of America — Sonic Arrow,” adventurer Steve Fossett’s jet engine-powered car, which reached a speed of 675 mph in 1996.A satellite museum, the Boeing Blue Sky Aviation Gallery, sits at Denver’s Centennial Airport and allows visitors up-close inspections of historic aircraft, including a 1942 Douglas DC-3 and a 1936 Stearman biplane.”It’s a fun museum and mostly caters to military aviation, but there’s an excellent collection of commercial aircraft models and space exhibits,” says aerospace blogger Isaac Alexander.”Pro tip: check the events calendar for special experiences, like cockpit demos and exclusive lectures,” notes Jillian Smith, a Denver realtor.
Museo del Aire, Madrid, Spain
Cuatro Vientos Airport outside Madrid is home to more than just Spain’s oldest airport; it also hosts the Museo de Aeronáutica y Astronáutica, popularly called the Museo del Aire. Six galleries and an outdoor area contain nearly 200 aircraft that tell the story of Spain’s aviation history and its own domestic aircraft production, ranging from the 1910-built Vilanova Acedo to modern Spanish Air Force fighter jets.Exhibits go beyond aircraft to showcase other military technology and weaponry developed alongside the aircraft industry, such as missiles and torpedoes.