Exhibits roar and soar at the Air Zoo, drawing visitors again and again to see what’s new at the high-flying museum near Kalamazoo.
“If you love engines, if you want to know who flew the plane, it can be very personalized, depending on what people want from the experience,” says Nikki Statler, marketing director. “You can have a different experience every time you come.”
The Smithsonian-affiliated museum has a growing reputation as an air and space museum. Geared to all ages, it began in 2007 with just nine planes. Its clever name comes from the fact that the planes all had animal nicknames, like Wildcat and Flying Tiger. Currently the collection includes 100 rare and antique aircraft.
The Air Zoo’s sexiest plane is the SR-71, a military spy jet with possibly the greatest animal nickname ever, Blackbird. Sleek, mysterious and dark, it is so popular that for the first time, in October 2019, the museum opened the cockpit to visitors at a special event.
Early aircraft remind visitors of inventor creativity. The goofy-looking, upside-down 1917 Fokker Tri wing (three-wing) plane seems an impossible dream, yet it flew. Hanging up high is a replica of the graceful 1903 Wright Flyer, the Wright brothers’ invention that started manned flight.
Volunteer docents can tell visitors as much or as little as they want to know about each treasured piece of air history, Statler says. Beyond that, the Air Zoo has one-of-a-kind indoor amusement rides for children, like the Montgolfier Balloon Race. It has three sophisticated flight simulators, a theater, café and many more exhibits, such as one devoted to the Apollo 11 moon landing. In addition, visitors can see restoration of two World War II aircraft at the Flight Discovery Center building nearby. They can sit in the pilot seats of vintage planes and helicopters. And in summer, they take a biplane ride, flying high for real.
Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Experience is just off I-94 at 6151 Portage Rd., Portage. Ticket prices start at $15.95. airzoo.org
Photo courtesy the Air Zoo