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The World’s Best Aviation Museums

For most pilots, their love of flying began in their childhood while they looked in wonder at a passing airplane in the sky. Their passion for flight often grew with books, and later, by visiting museums.

To help you indulge your love of flight and the history of aviation — and perhaps introduce your children to it as well — here’s a list of the top aviation museums in the world, courtesy of CNN.

14. Palm Springs Air Museum (California)

The Palm Springs Air Museum in Palm Springs, California is a small, living history museum, meaning many of the guides are pilots who flew planes like the ones on display.

It’s also one of the few air museums without ropes — you can actually climb inside the exhibits, talk to a pilot or enjoy a biplane ride. And for book buffs, they also have an 8,700-volume library.

Palm Springs Air Museum, 745 N. Gene Autry Trail, Palm Springs, California; +1 760 778 6262

13. Central Museum of the Air Forces (Monino, Russia)

Guided by retired air force officers with stories to share, this museum 24 miles outside of Moscow is a shrine to Cold War aviation, and considered Russia’s best. Some highlights on display are military Mikoyans (MiGs), Tu-142 bombers, Tu-22 bombers and a Tu-144 supersonic passenger plane.

Central Museum of the Air Forces, Monino, Russia

12. Royal Flying Doctor Service Museum (Alice Springs, Australia)

Housed inside what was once the RFDS radio house, the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) museum features a Pilatus PC12, the aircraft used by the service.

Also on display are historic radios and medical equipment, and in the 70-seat theater, visitors can hear amazing survival stories from those who've been visited by the flying doctors.

Royal Flying Doctor Service museum, Alice Springs, Australia

11. Red Bull Hangar-7 (Salzburg, Austria)

Owned by Red Bull founder and billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz, Red Bull Hangar-7 is one of the world's most beautiful aviation museums.

The main building — made from 1,200 tons of steel and 380 tons of glass — contains Red Bull’s fleet of Flying Bull stunt planes, a rare Cessna C337, a Boeing PT-17 (known as the Harley Davidson of the sky) and three 1,000-kilometer-per-hour Alpha jets, which were purchased by Red Bull’s stunt team from the German air force. It also has collections of F1 cars, motorbikes and plants.

Red Bull Hangar-7, Wilhelm-Spazier-Straße 7a, 5020 Salzburg, Austria

10. Canada Aviation and Space Museum (Ottawa, Canada)

Home to more than 130 aircraft from around the world, highlights here include the nose section of an Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow (one of few remaining parts of the Canadian-built fighter jet) and a flight simulator. And during the summer, visitors can take short flights in a 1939 Waco UPF-7 biplane.

Canada Aviation and Space Museum, 11 Aviation Parkway, Ottawa

9. China Aviation Museum (Beijing)

More than 200 aircraft are on display at China’s spectacular aviation museum, including Chinese fighter jets, a replica of the "Wright Flyer" and the plane that was once Chairman Mao’s personal transport.

Part of the museum is housed within a cave that was originally part of the underground bunker system of China's Shahe airbase.

China Aviation Museum, Changping, Beijing

8. Polish Aviation Museum (Krakow, Poland)

If Communist-era aircraft are your thing, you’re in the right place.

The Polish Aviation Museum is located on Rakowice-Czyżny, one of the oldest military airfields in Europe—the airfield played a part in defending the Krakow Fortress during World War I.

The base served as a pilot school during the 1920 Polish-Soviet War and by the late 1920s it had become the second largest air base in Poland.

Everywhere you look outside the Krakow museum there’s a string of Soviet-era, Cold-War jets. Inside, you’ll find well-conserved displays of accompanying memorabilia. The museum has a huge collection of aircraft.

Polish Aviation Museum, 31-864 Kraków, al. Jana Pawła II 39

7. Pima Air & Space Museum (Arizona, United States)

Pima Air & Space Museum is the largest non-government funded aviation museum in the United States. Exhibits include the SR-71 Blackbird (the world's fastest spy plane), a B-29 Superfortress and the world's smallest biplane.

In one area, planes double as canvases for Brazilian graffiti artist Nunca, and one of the most popular attractions is the Boneyard, otherwise known as the place planes go to die — the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group covers 2,600 acres and contains the rusting hulks of 4,000 retired aircraft.

Pima Air & Space Museum, 6000 E. Valencia Road, Tucson, Arizona

6. State Aviation Museum of Ukraine (Kiev, Ukraine)

Operated by Ukraine’s National Aviation University, this museum houses one of the world’s largest displays of aviation technology.

The majority of the aircraft are ones built by the Soviet Union and exhibits include supersonic bomber planes, transport planes and nuclear missile carriers. One of the most impressive exhibits is the Tupolev-104.

State Aviation Museum of Ukraine, Zhulyany Airport in Kiev, Ukraine

5. French Air and Space Museum (Le Bourget, France)

Covering 1.6 million square feet and containing 19,595 exhibits, the French Air and Space Museum is the only place you can see two Concordes side by side — a reminder of the technical achievement that united the British and French.

The museum also houses the only known remaining piece of the L'Oiseau Blanc, the aircraft used by Charles Nungesser and François Coli in their attempt to make the first transatlantic crossing from Paris to New York in 1927, two weeks before Charles Lindbergh’s successful flight in the opposite direction. They took off from Paris, but were never seen again.

French Air and Space Museum, Le Bourget, Paris

4. Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour (Washington, United States)

If you want to design your own jet or sit in a simulator to experience a Battle of Iwo Jima dogfight, this is the place to go. Designed to be touched and interactive, the main attraction is a tour of Boeing’s enormous assembly plant, housed inside a factory the size of Disneyland.

Notable exhibits include a one-piece composite test barrel of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the largest airplane engine in the world, which is a GE 90 Boeing 777 engine. The center’s claim to fame, though, is the Boeing jumbo jet assembly plant tour where the jet maker builds 747, 777 and 787 Dreamliners.

Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour, 8415 Paine Field Blvd., Everett, Washington

3. National Museum of the United States Air Force (Ohio)

The world’s biggest and oldest military aviation museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio offers 17 acres of indoor display space, spread across several hangars and other buildings; and further outdoor display space for some of its larger aircraft. It’s so large, in fact, that you’ll want to schedule at least a few days to explore it.

From the early years, a SPAD XIII and Caproni CA 36 bomber are on display. In the World War II gallery, there’s the B-17F "Memphis Belle," the first U.S. Army heavy bomber to complete 25 missions over Europe and return stateside with its crew intact, but the keystone of the museum’s presidential gallery is the Boeing VC-137C. Known as SAM (Special Air Mission) 26000, it was the aircraft serving as Air Force One the day president John F. Kennedy was shot.

National Museum of the USAF, 1100 Spaatz St., Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio (near Dayton)

2. Imperial War Museum Duxford (Duxford, UK)

Once a British Royal Air Force station, the museum at Duxford is often mentioned in "best aviation museums" lists, and is particularly noteworthy for its world-leading collection of WWII planes. It is also known for its atmosphere, as it’s an original WWI and WWII military airfield that is now a living museum.

Visitors can take a flying lesson in a vintage Warbird T6 Harvard while a Spitfire flies in formation alongside.

Imperial War Museum, Duxford, Cambridge, UK

1. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (Washington, D.C.)

Known to be the world’s best aviation and space collection, it’s the sheer number of aircraft and artifacts that make this Washington, D.C., museum beloved by both the aviation-obsessed and the marginally curious.

It has the world’s first airplane, the "Wright Flyer" that made its debut flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903, front and center in an exhibit dedicated to the onset of the aerial age.
Then there’s the Apollo 11 Command Module, "Columbia," which brought Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins home after the world’s first moon walk — it was the only part of the spacecraft that made it back to Earth.

The museum's companion facility, the Udvar-Hazy Center, contains the Space Shuttle Discovery and the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber "Enola Gay," the aircraft that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima during World War II.

National Air and Space Museum, Independence Ave at 6th St. SW, Washington, D.C.

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