Sunday, July 1, 2012

Road Trip Day 3 - Pima Air & Space Museum

As our big summer trip this year, my dad and I decided to take a six day road trip across southern California and Arizona to hit a number of museums that have been on our respective bucket lists for some time now.
 The next stop for us was the Pima Air & Space Museum.  Unlike the March Field stop the day before, this visit was actually planned.  Surprisingly, we were very glad that we had taken the time to do both; the two museums ended up being rather complimentary.

First walking into the Pima hangers, I was very impressed with how clean and comfortable of a museum it was.  They had a good mix of planes, interpretive signs, static interpretive displays, and interactive displays.  They also let you get much closer than most of the displayed aircraft at March; no ropes keeping you from wandering as close to the planes as you're interested in doing.
Unfortunately, what Pima gained inside, they lost outside.  The word that comes to mind for their outdoor exhibit is nothing but overwhelming.  Each plane was at least labeled, but other than the part number, the signs only contained a QR code linking to the museum's webpage on the craft. 

I'll admit that yes, I have written essays on how I wish I could see more QR codes in the wild, so it was nice to see a good application of them, with QR codes that actually decoded and pointed you somewhere useful, but... it didn't quite work.

While standing in the middle of the Tuscon desert, looking at an airplane, my dad and I found ourselves at the slight disadvantage that we didn't happen to have wifi... Without a smart phone, we got to spend the entire time limited to looking at planes and wondering what the significance of this one is versus the last dozen we saw.
Then again, what Pima lost in their failure to interpret the vast majority of their collection, they made up in their impressive set of docents.  Every hangar had several docents at hand to answer any questions you might have had about what you were looking at, and our bus tour guide was very well informed.
The bus tour was why we were here. Pima Air & Space happens to be right next to the 309th AMARG, which is an absolutely huge government facility dedicated to storing, maintaining, and stripping for parts excess portions of the US air forces plane inventory.  The AZ desert serves itself ideal for this, due to the particularly low humidity, and the deserts unusually hard soil which spares the need to even build tarmac to park the planes on.
It was simply mind-blowing to be driven around this field of something on the order of 4,000 surplus airplanes and parts.
There was one row set aside to a broad-spectrum collection of aircraft of historical significance that was interesting, but really even just seeing the huge numbers of planes was interesting.

Also getting to see the maintenance facilities and the tooling yard (where they store the manufacturing tooling for the planes in addition to the planes themselves) was interesting.  For example, in the foreground is the cockpit jig from the B-2.

A mostly interesting day looking at airplanes, but frankly, without the AMARG tour we would have found the day and the expense particularly disappointing.  Word from the wise; make sure to sit on the left side of the tour bus.  They say both sides are equally interesting, but the right side of the bus was primarily dedicated to variations on the theme of the B-52.  If you happen to be a huge fan of the B-52, by all means, but we were very thankful that we happened to be on the left.

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