BLOOMINGTON – Like planes? Then Prairie Aviation Museum is the place to go with both an inside and outside exhibition area now in its 30th year.
Aircraft is on display in the Chuck Schumacher Aviation Airpark, where visitors have the opportunity to meet those who maintained and flew them. These volunteers are willing to talk about their experiences and to hear about their guests' stories as well.
The museum's exhibits include three helicopters and seven airplanes. Both civilian and military aviation are honored here. There are no limits, as its interests also include space.
"We are one of the few museums that like to have visitors touch and feel the exhibits," Mike Sallee, community outreach director, said. "Most do not let you get near the exhibits and they don't let you look inside to see what it is like to be a pilot."
For example, the Huey helicopter normally is open and visitors are welcome to sit inside.
Here is a sample of other aircraft on exhibit:
• Bell AH-1J SeaCobra: The SeaCobra was used in Vietnam. This attack and close support helicopter escorted transport helicopters and ground convoys. Among its duties was armed reconnaissance. It had a crew of two.
• Grumman F-14D Tomcat: The Tomcat saw active service in the Navy from 1972 to 2006. It served as a fighter and later did precision bombing. It had a crew of two, pilot and radar intercept officer
• This Vought A-7A Corsair II was assigned from 1969 to 1972 to VA-125 Squadron "Rough Riders" in California. It's a land-based or carrier-borne subsonic single-seat tactical fighter with a crew of one.
The variety continues with a link trainer, for pilot training; a youth flight simulator called the Peashooter; and in the preservation process – a Hughes 269-A helicopter and T-33 Shooting Star. A new display honors the veterans of the Vietnam War.
In the summer, guests will want to return for Open Cockpit Days on the third Saturday of June, July, August and September. The event is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a cost of $5. On these days, visitors have even more opportunity to see inside planes and visit with pilots. As part of this, the canopy of the A-4 Skyhawk is opened. Plans are to add a Cessna 310, a civilian craft, that visitors will be able to sit in.
Those interested in flying will find it worthwhile to return throughout the year, as the museum's exhibits rotate and something different is just around the corner.
If you go
What: Prairie Aviation Museum
Where: 2929 E. Empire St., Bloomington
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday
Cost: $5 for adults, $2 for children 6-11, free for children 5 and younger
Information: Visit www.prairieaviationmuseum.org or call 309-663-7632