Arizona Aviation History Museums, Attractions, and Tours
Arizona, with its mild, dry climate and wide open spaces, has long been a mecca for aviation, both military and commercial.
Dating back to the 1920s, airports and air bases in Tucson, Phoenix and other areas have played important roles in the development of aviation.
The Early Days of Arizona Aviation
The Tucson Chamber of Commerce established the nation's first municipally-owned airfield in 1919. In 1927 the airfield was moved to the site southeast of town and dedicated as Davis-Monthan Field, then the largest municipal airport in the United States.
In 1924, the first air-mail traveled from Tucson to New York City and in 1926, the first scheduled commercial air service began in Arizona. The Prescott airport dates to 1926, and the Chandler Airport was opened in 1928.
Phoenix Sky Harbor began in 1928 when Scenic Airways wanted to begin flight service in the Southwest. The airport was later purchased by the City of Phoenix, in 1935. By 1948, the Civil Aeronautics Administration declared that Sky Harbor was the busiest airport in the United States, and now PHX Sky Harbor is one of the ten busiest airports in the United States.
What is now known as Winslow-Lindbergh Regional Airport was originally named Barrigan Airport. It was constructed in 1929 by Transcontinental Air Transport to serve as one of twelve stopover points for its new transcontinental service.
World War II led to the opening of numerous Army air fields all over Arizona. Scottsdale Airport began in 1942, as Thunderbird Field II, a basic training facility for World War II Army Air Corps pilots, about the same time of Kingman Army Air Field was opened.
Today, a number of airports, air bases, attractions, and historic aviation galleries are located across the state.
Arizona offers a large variety of tour options and destinations for aircraft enthusiasts and aviation historians.
Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson
Pima Air & Space Museum, located at 6000 E. Valencia Road in Tucson across from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, is one of the largest air and space galleries in the world. Opened in 1976 with 35 aircraft, it has evolved into the largest non-government-funded air museum in the United States
Its collection includes a vast collection of more than 300 vintage aircraft and spacecraft, housed in both interior hangars and exterior spaces, and spread over 80 acres.
Also located on the premises is the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame gallery in the Dorothy Finley Space Gallery. Established in 1985 as a joint proclamation including the Governor of Arizona, the Aviation Hall of Fame celebrates Arizona’s long and proud aviation history.
390th Memorial in Tucson
The 390th Memorial Museum is a treasure of World War II images, memorabilia, and personal histories of the achievements of the 390th Bombardment Group (H), an Eighth Air Force unit that was based in England from 1943-1945.
Located on the grounds of the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, it operates its own hangar building. Included in the exhibit areas is the beautifully restored B-17G Flying Fortress "I'll Be Around".
The facility is open daily year-round except Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Titan Missile Attraction near Tucson
The Titan Missile Museum is the only remaining Titan II site open to the public. It presents the Cold War between the U.S. and former Soviet Union, and provides a vivid education about the history of how the Titan helped keep the peace.
Once known as Air Force Facility Missile Site 8 or as Titan II ICBM Site 571-7, the site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1994.
Visitors journey through time to stand on the front line of the Cold War. One-hour guided tours of the missile site are offered on a first come, first served basis every day of the year except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The facility is located about 15 miles south of Tucson, at 1580 West Duval Mine Road in Green Valley, AZ, just south of Sahuarita. Phone 520.625.7736 for more information.
Planes of Fame in Valle near the Grand Canyon
Located halfway between Williams, Arizona and the south rim of the Grand Canyon, the Planes of Fame Museum in Valle houses over 40 vintage airplanes, many of which are also flyable. It is dedicated to the preservation, perpetuation and exhibition of historical aircraft, and to the men and women, both famous and unknown, who devoted their lives to flight.
Included in the static collection is Lockheed VC-121A Constellation Number 613, the personal aircraft used by General Douglas MacArthur during his assignment as Supreme Commander Allied Powers during the Korean War.
The facility is open every day of the year, with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and occasional special events. Valle is at the intersection of US 180 and Arizona Highway 64.
Flights are also available ... phone at 928.635.1000 for details.
Luke Air Force Base Air Park in Phoenix
In 1940, the U.S. Army looked to Arizona for a site for an Army Air Corps training field for advanced training in fighter aircraft. The city of Phoenix bought 1,440 acres of land, and leased it to the federal government. Construction began in March of 1941 at Litchfield Park Air Base. The base was later renamed Luke Field in honor of World War I Medal of Honor recipient and former Phoenix native, Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr.
During World War II, the base was the largest fighter training base in the Air Corps. By November of 1946, with victory assured, the base was deactivated. In February of 1951, as war began in Korea, the base was reactivated as Luke Air Force Base, part of the Air Training Command under the reorganized U.S. Air Force.
Today, Luke Air Force Base is located about 15 miles west of downtown Phoenix, and about 7 miles west of Glendale. It is a major training base of the Air Education and Training Command (AETC), training pilots in the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
There are several aircraft on base in an air park setting. Included are a North American AT-6 Texan, F-84F Thunderstreak, F-100C Super Sabre, F-104C Starfighter, F-15B Eagle, F-4E Phantom II and a T-33A Shooting Star.
The Air Park is not accessible to the general public. However, groups can arrange tours through the Luke AFB public affairs office.
Commemorative Air Force (CAF) Arizona Wing in Mesa
"Sentimental Journey" at Luke Days 2007 Air Show
Located at 2017 N. Greenfield Road in Mesa, this fine facility houses a superb collection of vintage aircraft.
Included are a B-17G Flying Fortress "Sentimental Journey", built in late 1944, and assigned to the Pacific theater for the duration of the war. It later served in air-sea rescue in Florida, and in drone activities. It was sent to Davis-Monthan in 1959 for storage, acquired by Aero Union Corporation of Chico, California, and later donated to the CAF.
Other vintage airplanes in the fleet include the B-25 Mitchell "Maid in the Shade", C-47 Skytrain, F4 Phantom II, and others.
In 1985 ground was broken for the wing's first permanent hangar, and the facility and wing continue growth today.
Warbird aircraft rides are also available ... contact the CAF Arizona Wing for schedules and availability, and hours of operation, at phone 480.924.1940.
Photos from Arizona Museums
The Pima Air & Space Museum, 6000 East Valencia Road, Tucson, Arizona
F-16 Fighting Falcon at the Luke Air Force Base Airpark in Phoenix, Arizona
B-17 "Sentimental Journey" at Luke Days 2007 Air Show in Phoenix, Arizona
More Information About Arizona Aviation History
- Davis-Monthan Air Force Base
- Pima Air and Space Museum
- 390th Memorial Museum
- Titan Missile Museum
- Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force
- Planes of Fame Air Museum in Valle, AZ
- Luke Air Force Base