National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton - Ohio Museums

Exploring the US Air Force Museum in Dayton Ohio with Kids

Experience history when you visit the US Air Force Museum in Dayton Ohio – one of the best (& FREE) things to do in southwest Ohio!

I was visiting Springfield Ohio for a wedding recently, and I wanted to spend a day exploring Greater Dayton before the weekend celebrations began. I had attended college nearby in Cedarville several years before, so I was familiar with the area, but I wanted to experience something new.

Young Kid in Awe of Aircraft at USAF Museum in Dayton Ohio

Having my oldest (15yo daughter) and youngest (3yo son) children in tow for the weekend, I needed something fun to do in Dayton Ohio that would appeal to all three of us. Plus, I didn’t want to spend a ton of money, so free things to do in Dayton with kids were high on my list of possibilities.

Knowing how much all of my kids (and myself) enjoyed the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the fact that Dayton Ohio is the birthplace of aviation, we decided to spend a few hours exploring the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton Ohio.

PT-19A Cornell

About the National Museum of the USAF

The National Museum of the United States Air Force is the official museum of the United States Air Force located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, 6 miles northeast of Dayton, Ohio. The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is the oldest and largest military aviation museum in the world, with more than 360 aircraft and missiles on display. – Wikipedia

With an estimated 1 million visitors a year, this tourist attraction in Dayton Ohio is worth exploring. And while we only spent the better part of a single morning touring the museum, it’s easily a full-day or multi-day experience.

B-25B Mitchell

Visiting the US Air Force Museum in Dayton Ohio

I was a little bit surprised at my 15yo daughter’s reaction when I told her we were headed to the Air Force Museum in Dayton – she was visibly excited about getting to see airplanes.

My 3yo was also excited, but I expected that – he loves anything that can fly or has wheels (typical preschool boy). 

As we approached the Dayton air museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, my daughter started getting giddy at the sight of planes staged around the museum’s four-hanger indoor exhibit space complex.

Mk Demolition Bombs from 1930s

Things to Know About Visiting the Wright Patterson Air Force Museum in Dayton

Before we headed to the museum, there were a few questions I needed to have answered:

Q: How much does it cost to get into the Dayton Air Force Museum?

A: Parking and admission to the Dayton Air Force Museum are free. A “Souvenir Aircraft Locator Map” of the museum is available for any donation amount.

Q: Can I bring any food or drink into the museum?

A: Only clear, sealed bottles of water are allowed to be brought into the USAF Museum. Food and drink are available for purchase in the museum’s two dining areas. You’ll be asked to leave any other food or drink in your vehicle when you go through the security screening at the entrance.

Q: Are the planes in the Air Force Museum real?

A: Yes! There are over 360 aircraft and missiles on display, and most are real planes that have flown in wars and have been restored.

Q: How to get to the USAF Museum in Dayton?

A: The Dayton Air Museum is at 1100 Spaatz St, Dayton, OH 45431. We took OH-4 south off I-70 to the Harshman Ave exit. You could also take I-675 to OH-444/Springfield St.

Q: Are tours available?

A: Yes, guided tours are available at the Air Force Museum in Dayton. If you wanted to visit the Air Force museum and take advantage of their free guided tours, you’ll want to arrive between 9:30 and 9:45 am as the tour of the first building begins at 10 am.

Q: How long does it take to tour the Air Force Museum?

A: We spent about 3 hours at the Air Force Museum in Dayton and saw most of what we wanted to see, but you could easily spend a full day or more touring the museum.

Q: Where is the best place to stay near the US Air Force Museum in Dayton?

A: We stayed about 20 minutes north of the museum in Springfield, but there are several great options for Dayton hotels and vacation rentals nearby.

Douglas A-24

Exploring the Dayton Air Force Museum

I have to say that I really appreciated the museum guide who greeted us before we entered the first exhibit hangar. Seeing that I had a 3yo with me, he was quick to point out the “really big planes” as well as the hands-on exhibits that would help to draw my youngest in. 

F-84E Thunderjet

His knowledge of the museum and information about where specific displays were located throughout the four buildings also helped me to keep us moving at a steady pace in order to see everything we wanted to see before we hit meltdown mode, signaling the end of our visit to the Ohio airplane museum.

G-3 Target Glider

I loved that the museum was set up in chronological order – from the earliest military flights to current research and development.

US Air Force Museum Exhibits

  • Air Park (Outdoor Gallery)
  • Early Years Gallery (Early Military Flight to World War II)
  • World War II Gallery
  • National Aviation Hall of Fame
  • Holocaust Exhibit
  • Korean War Gallery
  • Southeast Asia War Gallery
  • Berlin Air Lift Exhibit
  • Eugene W. Kettering Cold War Gallery
  • Missile Gallery
  • Allan and Malcolm Lockheed & Glenn Marting Space Gallery
  • Maj Gen Albert Boyd & Maj Gen Fred Ascani Research and Development Gallery
  • William E. Boeing Presidential Gallery
  • Lt Gen William H. Tunner Global Reach Gallery
  • Leonardo da Vinci’s Machines in Motion Exhibit
early American military aircraft

We probably spent the most time in the first building (Early Military Flight through World War II) and the last building (walking through the former Air Force One planes). 

B-29 Fuselage

The earlier aircraft had signs of life that the newer ones lacked – the colors were bold and the planes showcased the personalities of their pilots and crew. 

Shark Plane

The newer aircraft are bland in design and built for performance instead of personality, and while their size and power were impressive, they weren’t nearly as exciting to look at.

UH-1P Iroquois

Photos from the USAF Museum in Dayton Ohio

My daughter and I took hundreds of photos of the aircraft displays between the two of us. Here are just a few of the photos we captured… click on any photo to read its caption and learn more about the aircraft exhibits at the Dayton air museum.

More to Explore in Dayton Ohio

While our visit to the US Air Force Museum in Dayton was just a few hours in length, I felt like we got a good feel for the museum in Ohio and the various aircraft exhibits.

I would have loved to have spent more time in certain parts of the museum – actually taking the time to read the signage (it’s a little difficult to do so when you’re trying to keep a 3yo engaged) and perhaps even taking one of the free guided tours to learn more about the various aircraft on display.

Next time we head to the greater Dayton area, I have a few Dayton restaurants on my bucket list, as well as a visit to nearby Yellow Springs for some Young’s Dairy ice cream treats!

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