Sometimes when you live close to a museum, attraction or anything that might appeal to a tourist or visitor, it is easy to lose appreciation for it.
Although I have lived in Middle Georgia for almost 12 years, I have not been to the Museum of Aviation in 5 years. After hearing the rumors of Pokémon being spotted there, my eight year old son and I decided to visit one weekend.
Saving the hunt for Pokémon for later, we first experienced what the museum had to offer in the form of planes and aviation history. Upon arrival, the first thing you see are two cruise missiles along the perimeter fence. These landmarks help you spot the coming entrance to the museum when headed South. Once inside the gate, you can see a large number of human piloted planes outside around the core museum buildings. For those who don’t want to walk, you can see all of the outside planes by driving the circle around grounds.
Right in front of the main entrance to the main building is a B1-B Lancer. The sleek variable swept wing strategic bomber was designed to be a long range supersonic cruising speed bomber to cope with the vulnerabilities of the workhorse B-52 Stratofortress (also on site). Lancers have 4 turbofan jet engines and are capable of flying at Mach 1.25 (25 percent faster than the speed of sound), but normally operates at close but below Mach 1 under normal conditions. Although not an exceptionally large plane, you get a real feel for the size of bomber aircraft right away. It is a beautiful plane and although conceived in the 60 and designed in the 70s, it looks as modern as any newer aircraft.
Across the driveway is the bone white A-10 Thunderbolt II, better known as the Warthog for its unique porcine appearance. Although the size and general shape of a fighter, it is really a close air support plane designed to engage ground based targets rather than air superiority missions like dog-fighting and escorting bombers or cargo planes. What really sets the A-10 apart is that instead of it being a plane with a mounted weapon, it is a weapon with a mounted plane.
The entire platform was designed to carry a General Electric GAU-8A Avenger 30mm (1.2 inches) Gatling gun. Protruding conspicuously out of the nose of the plane, this 7 barrel hydraulic rotary cannon can fire at 4,200 rpm and is so powerful that the recoil can drastically affect the plane’s flight. Because of this, the gun is mounted off center so that the firing barrel (9 o’clock position, or to the left as facing the front of the plane) is dead center. The eliminates the tendency for the gun to pull the plane left or right while firing and instead will slow it down. When first designed, the exhaust from the gun was so plentiful that it could choke the engines and cause it to flame-out.
Because of the dangers associated with close air support, the plane is built like a flying tank. The Warthog is extremely tough and is designed to be able to return to base with one engine, half a wing and half the tail missing. It can also survive direct hits from armor piercing and explosive shells up to 23 mm. The unit cost for this tough monster was under $20 million each while the Lancer was over $200 million.
Around the grounds are a number of other planes, such as the B-52, mentioned earlier, ECN-135N Stratotanker, F-106 Delta Dart, C-130E Hercules helicopter, and a number of other trainers, cargo, fighter and spy planes that any fan of aircraft would recognize. One could write a novel length article on the details of each one. The trip of discovering to walk to each plane is well worth it in knowledge as well as exercise. I would recommend doing so in the earlier part of the day before it gets to hot or to wait until Summer is over. It is around outdoor exhibits planes that one will find Pokemon and Pokestops by the barrel. More on that later.
Inside the buildings or “hangers” are additional exhibits of mostly smaller aircraft. One such building, the Century of Flight hangar is home to the SR-71 Blackbird. This rare and storied reconnaissance plane holds the record for the fastest air-breathing conventional jet aircraft ever built. Capable of flying at 3 times the speed of sound, it could get in an over a reconnaissance target and be gone before coming under attack by defending fighters.
Also in the hangar are several other historic and interesting aircraft. One is a replica of the Epps Flyer hanging from the ceiling near the second floor entrance to the hall. The contrast between this plane and the more modern ones in the hall is stark. A technological marvel in it’s day, the Wright Flyer looks more like a child’s balsa wood toy than one of the highly technological computer controlled aircraft of today.
In Hangar 3, you’ll find more planes as well as a couple of must see exhibits. One is the Tuskegee Airmen display, which has scenes depicting the training as well as flight operation of the air group. There is also a display of the uniform and a recreation of a mission board with looping recordings playing to give you the feeling of being there. There is also a mock-up of the living quarters provided to these men.
The other must see exhibit is the paratrooper exhibit. Inside is a peeled back shell of the tiny aircraft used to drop troopers deep behind enemy lines. Also, there is a loads of information about the hardships, tough training and impossible missions faced by the paratroopers who were a big reason for the success of D-Day. One account is of the Battle of Graignes. There, a group of 182 American soldiers held back a division of 2,000 advancing German SS troops in the middle of marshes and flooded fields. This two-day delay to the reinforcement of German coastal defenders was key in expanding from the invasion from the beaches and allowed the American liberators to take and hold Carentan, a battle depicted in great detail in the Band of Brother’s series.
Besides these historical displays and exhibits, the Museum also has a number of educational opportunities for children. Starbase Robins is a hands on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program for students in local public and private schools. The program emphasizes teamwork and communication in every day life as well as setting and achieving goals. More information can be obtained from their website or by calling 478-926-1769.
Being the second largest Air Force aviation museum in the country, it is difficult to describe everything available to see or do and the facility has enough to offer for multiple trips, even if to just take advantage of the exercise, as my son and I experienced in our search for Pokemon.
The museum even has posters encouraging combining the popular game with tours of the sites. As it turns out, nearly each outdoor exhibit has in-game significance. Most of the planes and monuments serve as anchor points for Pokestops, but also there are a couple of gyms that museum patrons can battle each other over while walking among the planes. With so many sources of items, a quick trip and walk at the Aviation museum can easily fill your inventory in just a couple of loops.
If you are looking for some quick experience, you could even park in a quiet spot among the two cruise missiles along the fence and be in range of two Pokestops. If these happen to have in-game “lure modules” installed, with the use of a lucky egg and incense, one can nearly always have a Pokemon to catch and do so at double experience. With such an arrangement, one could level up 1 or 2 levels in the 30 minute duration of a lucky egg item.
When playing Pokemon at the Museum, please be respectful of other patrons, the exhibits and the grounds themselves. Pay attention to where you are walking and be polite. Also, don’t prevent others from enjoying the museum by crowding exhibits and lingering too long.
The Robins AFB Museum of Aviation is a nice place to visit, but easy to take for granted when you live nearby. Admission is free, although it survives on donations, which are always welcome. Hours of operation are 9 AM to 5 PM every day of the week and it is only closed on 4 holidays every year. The address is 1942 Heritage Blvd, Robins AFB.