Also know as the Aerospace Museum, the San Diego Air & Space Museum in Balboa Park is California's official air and space museum. It traces the history of flight, from a model of the Montgolfier brothers' 1783 hot air balloon to the exploration of space.
The building in which the museum is housed was built by the Ford Motor Company at a cost of $2 million in 1935. Its purpose was to showcase Ford's line of cars and V-8 engine at the 1935~36 California Pacific International Exposition. In June 1980, the historic Ford Building became the museum's home, following an arson fire that destroyed the existing aerospace collection in the Balboa Park Electric Building.
In the Theodore Gildred Flight Rotunda, visitors are greeted by the Apollo 9 Command Module. There is also a reproduction of a Sopwith Pup, along with a variety of other aircraft. The adjacent World War I gallery provides an opportunity to learn about such fighter aces as the Red Baron and Eddie Rickenbacker, as well as their vintage aircraft.
A permanent exhibit called "The Golden Age of Flight'' covers aviation advances from 1919 to 1939. An example of the era is a "barnstormer'' used to entertain audiences by performing death-defying loops and maneuvers. The Pacific Southwest Airlines Exhibit focuses on the 40-year history of PSA, including uniforms and a reproduction of the ticket booth at Lindbergh Field.
Visitors can relax in the Pavilion of Flight, surrounded by fountains, greenery and some of the museum's larger airplanes, such as a vintage Ford Trimotor. One display features a MiG-17 and an F-4 Phantom in a simulated dogfight. Meanwhile, the World War II gallery shows aircraft production, design and technology that went into the war effort, along with a legendary Spitfire and a preserved Japanese Zero.
The "Jet Age'' pays tribute to planes from the F-22 to the supersonic Concorde as well as experimental aircraft. One other permanent display is the Walter M. "Wally'' Schirra, Jr. Space Flight Gallery, dedicated to the only American astronaut to fly on all of the early U.S. space programs: Mercury, Gemini and Apollo.
Other attractions at the museum include the Max Flight Interactive Ride, a two-seat flight simulator with 360-degree pitch, roll, spin and spiral action, and the Flight Training Experience, a cockpit with realistic flight instruments and controls that recreates the experience of flying over San Diego. The museum also offers a real Private Pilot Ground School, a 13-week course leading to the written examination of the Federal Aviation Administration's private pilot certificate.
Regular museum admission fees, which do not include special exhibits, are $15 for adults aged 12 and over, $12 for seniors, students, and retired military, and $6 for youth aged 3~11 years. Active duty military personnel, SDASM members and children aged two and under are admitted free of charge. There is an $8 fee for use of the Max flight simulator.
Museum regular hours are 10am to 4:30pm, seven days a week, except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. During the summer, Memorial Day through Labor Day, hours are extended by an hour until 5:30pm. The museum also has an annex located on the north side of Gillespie Field, where aircraft restoration takes place. It is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 8am to 3pm.
The San Diego Air & Space Museum is located at 2001 Pan American Plaza, Balboa Park, San Diego, California 92101. From I-5 South, take the 10th Street exit and turn left onto A Street. Continue to 12th Street until it becomes Park Boulevard, and then go left on President's Way into Balboa Park. The museum is on the left at the first stop sign, with parking directly in front.