Monday, December 31, 2012
We finally took the kids to Kalamazoo Mi to visit the Air Zoo, and were really impressed. I took the panoramic photo above from the eating area during our lunch break, and what you see is about half of the exhibits. It's well laid out from the early years of flight, through the world wars, modern jets, and into the transition to space with the very impressive SR-71. In the other hall is one area devoted to space exploration, and one with more WW-II aircraft.
For me, the highlights were seeing the real aircraft up close. I can't describe how big and impressive the F-14 and SR-71 are in person. These are big and amazing aircraft! They also have an engine from the SR-71 on display and a description of some of the challenges that had to be overcome to make an engine that could operate in such extremes. Being a geek in general, and mechanical engineer specifically, I really eat that stuff up, and could spend all day marveling at these masterpieces of design. So much so that when we visited the Udvar-Hazy center of the National Air and Space museum near Dulles airport a few years ago, we almost missed our flight because I didn't want to leave, but that's a different story.
For the kids (aged 12 - 21), the highlight was certainly the Flight Simulators. We were glad to have paid the $15 each for the "Ultimate Ace Package" instead of the regular $8 admission, it was certainly well worth the extra seven bucks. After a couple of flights, the kids were doing barrel rolls and other acrobatics with impressive control. They also enjoyed the other exhibits and the hands-on activities and cockpits that they could sit in and imagine flying with the Blue Angels or bailing out over enemy territory.
The 3D movies were also well worth having the all-inclusive pass and spending the time (about a half-hour each) to view. One was a fun animated film about the Apollo mission from the perspective of a stow-away housefly, and the other was an inspiring story of a B-17 crew from WW-II.
We visited on a weekday during Christmas break, and arrived right at the 9:00 opening time. We seemed to have the place almost to ourselves until about lunch time, and even then, I wouldn't say it was crowded. There was a model-rocket clinic going on that day too, and I think a bunch of the people we saw were there for that. We had planned to stay until the 5:00 closing time, but had pretty much seen and done everything as many times as we wanted by 3:30, and we could have been done a lot sooner than that if we weren't at such a relaxed pace, so I'd say plan for at least 4 hours to see everything.
The kids were really impressed, and at the end of our time at the Air Zoo, they were thanking us for taking them, and commenting on how it exceeded their expectations. There's stuff for smaller kids, and they'd enjoy it too, but they just wont get as much out of it as older kids and adults. I'd highly recommend it for kids older than 10, and for adults that are interested in science and technology.