Ready for Takeoff

Visit these fascinating places that celebrate noted aviators and aeronautical history.

As it turns out, the sky is not the limit — at least for Ohio’s space and aviation pioneers. From the invention of the airplane to the first American to orbit the earth, a great many of the giant leaps for mankind in aerospace technology have been made by Ohioans. That means if you have a yearning to do some exploring yourself, you can trace their flight paths in a bounty of museums and historic sites all around the Buckeye State.

Displayed at the boyhood home of former astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn is the blue jumpsuit he wore in 1962 when he became the first American to orbit the earth. In 1998 at age 77, Glenn climbed aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery and became the oldest person to travel into space.

Open May through September, the site presents memorabilia from Glenn’s career as a Marine Corps pilot who flew an astonishing 149 combat missions in World War II and Korea. There are items, too, from his political career and long partnership with his childhood sweetheart and wife, Annie.

One charm of Glenn’s early home is his bedroom, outfitted just as it was when he grew up there in the ’20s and ’30s, including replicas of model airplanes suspended from the ceiling. The models look so authentic, even Glenn thought they were his originals, says site director Debbie Allender.


National Museum of the United States Air Force

From a legendary World War I Fokker triplane, to the retired Air Force One that carried eight U.S. presidents, the National Museum of the United States Air Force offers an unforgettable experience for aviation and history buffs.

Like any military mission, a visit here requires a good plan of attack. Organized into multiple galleries covering every era of flight, a visitor easily could spend days viewing the dizzying array of airplanes and artifacts in the world’s largest military aviation museum.

Get up close to a modern B-2 stealth bomber, see the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb over Nagasaki in 1945, and stand in awe of a 71-foot-tall Peacekeeper missile designed to fly at 15,000 mph and deliver nuclear weapons 6,000 miles away.


The Wright Cycle Company and the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center
The story of Orville and Wilbur Wright never ceases to inspire. Two brothers with gifts for mechanical design and imaginations as big as the sky apply knowledge gleaned in their Dayton bicycle shop to build the world’s first heavier-than-air flying machine. It’s a story so amazing, it could only happen in real life.

At the Wright Cycle Company — the brothers’ last bike shop, preserved intact — visitors can trace how the inventors adapted cycling technology to their planes.

In the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center, discover the aviators’ connection to another creative genius and Orville’s classmate, pioneering African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.


Armstrong Air and Space Museum
With its dome rising from the ground like a futuristic lunar base, the Armstrong Air and Space Museum is hands-on, not walk-through. In its trio of simulators, visitors can see if they have the right stuff to dock a space capsule, land a space shuttle, or pilot a lunar module — just like Neil Armstrong did in 1969 as the world held its breath and Wapakoneta’s favorite son became the first human to walk on the moon.

Inside, the building’s 56-foot-wide dome becomes the Astro Theater, where visitors can settle in for a 25-minute documentary that tells the story of Apollo 11’s dramatic lunar landing. The museum is home to a pair of aircraft flown by Armstrong, the Gemini 8 capsule he rode into space in 1966 and spacesuits from Armstrong’s Gemini and Apollo missions.


International Women’s Air and Space Museum
In 1961, 13 female pilots secretly took part in the same rigorous testing as their male counterparts in NASA’s legendary Mercury space program. They hoped to be the first women in space, but Congress never let them fly, says Caroline Luhta, president of the International Women’s Air and Space Museum’s board of trustees.  America had to wait until 1983 to celebrate its first female astronaut, Sally Ride.

The unknown story of the “Mercury 13” awaits discovery at the museum, located at Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland. It’s also home of the Pretty Purple Puddy Tat — a Smith Mini-plane built and flown by aerobatic champion Tracy Pilurs.

Many of the museum’s pieces have traveled in international exhibitions — like a flight suit worn by Amelia Earhart. The celebrated aviator’s 1936 appearance in Cleveland came just a few months before she was lost over the Pacific.


NASA Glenn Visitor Center

From the International Women’s Air and Space Museum, it’s a 15-minute walk to Great Lakes Science Center, the new location of NASA Glenn Visitor Center.

It holds more than 50 exhibits and artifacts, including the Skylab 3 Command Module. The 12,800-pound capsule flew a trio of astronauts to the Skylab Space Station and safely home again in 1973. Many displays encourage visitors to touch and explore, including a remote-controlled lunar rover that would-be astronauts can maneuver over a model of the moon’s surface.


NASA Glenn Research Center
About a 15-minute drive south is NASA Glenn Research Center, where scientists and engineers are developing the technology that will power tomorrow’s air and space flights.

From April through October, NASA Glenn opens the laboratory doors for monthly public tours. While the tours are free, space is limited and reservations are required.

Inside, visitors will discover the country’s largest ground-based, zero-gravity research facility, which generates up to five seconds of zero gravity, says Mack Thomas, a community relations specialist with NASA Glenn.

Watch as prototype moon rovers are put through their paces in a 60-foot-long pit filled with simulated lunar soil. Witness real-time communication between astronauts aboard the International Space Station and NASA Glenn staff who provide round-the-clock operations support.

The center also is home to the world’s largest icing wind tunnel. Aircraft wings are exposed to freezing mist, allowing engineers to test de-icing technology. Visitors also get the chance to climb right inside state-of-the-art research aircraft parked in NASA Glenn’s hangar.



Armstrong Air and Space Museum
500 S. Apollo Dr., Wapakoneta 45895,

International Women’s Air and Space Museum

(Located at Burke Lakefront Airport)
1501 N. Marginal Rd., Cleveland 44114,

The John and Annie Glenn Historic Site
72 W. Main St., New Concord 43762,
Open May–September

NASA Glenn Research Center

21000 Brookpark Rd., Cleveland 44135,
Free monthly tours offered April through October. Reservations are required.

NASA Glenn Visitor Center

(Located at the Great Lakes Science Center)
601 Erieside Ave., Cleveland 44114,

National Museum of the United States Air Force
1100 Spaatz St.,
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base 45433,

The Wright Cycle Company and Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center
16 S. Williams St., Dayton 45402,