Anyone who thinks museums are full of dusty, static exhibits has not yet been to the Air Mobility Command Museum in Dover, Delaware. The museum‘s collection of nearly three dozen aircraft is impressive enough for gearheads, but it’s the true stories of these planes that really move you emotionally. A visit to the Air Mobility Command Museum should be at the top of your list of things to do in Dover, Delaware.
During my recent day trip to Historic Dover, I made a visit to the Air Mobility Command Museum with my husband. The museum’s Operations Manager, Mike, gave us an incredible tour, rich with facts and history. While I thought the visit to the museum was more for him, I came away just as affected by the planes on display. These aren’t merely exhibits, these are true pieces of history.
A Brief History of the Air Mobility Command Museum
Air Mobility Command (AMC) is a subset of the US Air Force. It’s a team within the greater USAF community whose responsibilities include tasks such as airlift, aerial refueling, medical transport, and providing humanitarian support. As such, the majority of exhibits at the AMC Museum focus on cargo and tanker aircraft.
Located on the edge of the Dover Air Force Base, the Air Mobility Command Museum opened in 1986. The museum is largely volunteer-run and maintained, with only three staff members.
The museum has essentially two parts, an inside and an outside. The “inside” refers to Building 1301, a historic hangar that housed an Army Air Force Base Unit from 1944 until 1946 and served as a rocket test center. At over 20,000 square feet, the hangar is more than large enough for a number of aircraft and exhibits. In addition to the aircraft that are on display, there are two flight simulators. If seeing these planes has you feeling inspired, you can try your hand at piloting a plane or two.
The “outside” of the AMC Museum is a whopping 100,000 square foot tarmac that is dotted with more planes than you’ll know what to do with. A blue bench sits in front of each outdoor aircraft and is custom-made to display the name of that aircraft. It’s a clever detail.
Highlights of the AMC Museum
Throughout my visit to the AMC Museum, there were stories of real servicemen and women who have been to the museum, who have shared their experiences working on or with these aircraft. Those personal experiences make it clear that the “highlights” at the AMC Museum are different for everyone. But here are a few aircraft that left a lasting impression on me.
Without a doubt, the C-47A Skytrain was the most memorable plane for me. The olive drab plane seems to be of the thinnest corrugated metal. But it doesn’t take long to notice the bullet holes in the side of the plane just above the simple benches that line the length of the plane on both sides. This very plane flew soldiers into France on D-Day. The plane is fully restored and a remarkable part of history.
If bigger is better, the C-5A Galaxy must be one of the best. Inch for inch, this aircraft could go toe to toe with a cruise ship. Because this is a cargo plane, the inside is a massive cave-like warehouse. So large is the inside, in fact, that it’s longer than the Wright Brothers first flight. The museum pays tribute to the brothers with a miniature version of the Wright Flyer hanging at the entrance to the plane. There are all kinds of metrics to break down just how large the interior of the plane is. It’s larger than you can fathom, I promise.
But it’s more than the mere size that makes this C-5A Galaxy noteworthy. This C-5A Galaxy conducted a successful Air Mobile Feasibility Test in 1974. So what does that mean exactly? While in flight, this plane dropped an 86,000-lb Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (or ICBM). The missile descended on a parachute before its engine fired. It rose in altitude before eventually dropping. The test proved that an ICBM can be launched from the air.
Sure, sure, the planes can carry heavy things. But what about important people? The museum’s VC-9C served largely as an Air Force Two, carrying Vice Presidents from Walter Mondale to Dick Cheney. It also carried First Ladies from Rosalynn Carter to Michelle Obama.
Because the plane is smaller than the actual Air Force One, it pulled double-duty. It served as a temporary (so to speak) Air Force One for presidents from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. Even Queen Elizabeth II has gone for a ride on this plane.
Today, the AMC Museum has the interior of the plane done up to be an Air Force Two. China place settings, playing cards, and even matchbooks are emblazoned with the logo of the vice president. Visitors get a glimpse of just what working as a VP is like.
Dover AFB Control Tower
The planes don’t take off and land on their own. There are important teams of people who help make it happen. When the Dover Air Force Base retired a control tower a decade ago after 50 years of service, it moved across the field to the museum. Although the tower is now shorter than it originally was, it still has its original equipment. The museum even has a live feed playing so you can hear the nearby controllers conversing with nearby aircraft, giving you a real feel for what an active control tower is like.
Tips for Visiting the AMC Museum
- Take a guided tour. I can’t stress this enough. Some of the exhibits are only accessible with a guide. Not to mention, many of the tour guides are retired service members with incredible insight into these aircraft.
- The AMC Museum is open every day of the week except for Monday (and certain holidays). Entrance is free!
- The third Saturday of the month, from April to October, the AMC Museum hosts Open Cockpit Days. The event, as the name implies, gives visitors full access inside of many of the aircraft that are otherwise not accessible.
Getting to the Air Mobility Command Museum
The Air Mobility Command Museum is easy to get to. The entrance is on Route 9, just off of DE-1.
There is plenty of free parking at the museum.
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Thank you to Delaware’s Quaint Villages for hosting me. All opinions, as well as all photos, are my own.