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Aviation History Takes Flight at New England Air Museum

By Pamela Sosnowski

Although most Americans are familiar with the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, there are many aviation museums throughout the country that are no less impressive and not to be overlooked. One of these is the New England Air Museum (NEAM), directly adjacent to the Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks. The museum has over 100 aircraft on display ranging from early flying machines to supersonic jets and educates visitors of all ages about the history of flight.

"From massive aircraft like Igor Sikorsky's transatlantic flying boat, to canvas and wood flying machines, from moon-walking space suites to WWII bombers, jet fighters, helicopters and more, NEAM has the largest collection of aircraft in New England and one of the most unique collections in the world," Jerry Roberts, the museum's executive director, said. "Our mission is to study and celebrate New England's unique contributions to aerospace history from pioneering balloons and flying machines to the space age contributions."

In addition to the aircraft, visitors will discover engaging educational exhibits and flight-related memorabilia in hangars spread over 56 acres next to the airport. Visitors can learn more about Connecticut's contributions to aviation in a spectral imaging show at the on-site Aviation Pioneers Theater.

"Three of these hangars are open to the public and contain over 70 aircraft, thousands of artifacts and a wide variety of exhibits," Roberts said. "What sets us apart is the larger than life experience of being able to stand next to, and sometimes climb aboard, historic aircraft many of which were designed and built right here in Connecticut."

The museum also contains some aeronautics rarities that cannot be seen anywhere else including the last remaining Sikorksky VS-44A "flying boat", the Silas Brooks Balloon Basket, the oldest surviving aircraft in the U.S., and a Kaman K-225 helicopter, the oldest surviving Kaman-built aircraft. Currently undergoing renovations is a Burnelli CBY-3 Loadmaster, the only one ever made.

NEAM also offers several demonstrations and activities for the littlest aspiring pilots to get a taste of what flying is like. Children can ride the Ercoupe full-motion flight simulator, dress up as a commercial pilot, fighter pilot, or astronaut, and receive an open cockpit tour, in addition to other fun activities. It also offers several one-hour classroom programs that local schools can incorporate in conjunction with a field trip to the museum.

Open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM, NEAM offers discounts to seniors, veterans, and those actively serving in the military. NEAM is New England's largest aviation museum, and is owned and operated by the Connecticut Aeronautical Historical Association, a private, non-profit educational institution that was formed in 1959. Although a Board of Directors and staff of 20 employees help run the museum, it owns much of its success to the manpower of its 150+ volunteers that give guided tours, help install exhibits, and more.

"It's not just about airplanes and helicopters, it's about the human genius and Yankee ingenuity that got us into the air and keeps us reaching for the stars," Roberts said. "From aviation buffs to young families, from veterans to school groups, the New England Air Museum offers adventure, discovery and the thrill of flight!"

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