One of the best things about travel is the unexpected detours. My family and I have found some interesting and unique spots that way. Of course, we’ve found some duds too. But every adventure created a new story, a learning experience, or both.
This was the case with a stop we made off I-75 in Georgia, south of Atlanta. When I saw the billboards on the interstate for an aviation museum, we took a side trip to visit, discovering this enormous museum had so much more than we’d anticipated.
The Warner Robins Museum of Aviation campus is the second largest U.S. Air Force Museum, sitting on fifty-one acres next to the Warner Robins Air Force base. Instead of finding the small building we expected before our arrival, we found four large hangars as well as over a dozen planes staged outdoors around the buildings.
The Eagle Building
Before we walked into the main building, we passed under the B-1B Lancer, a bomber 146 feet long, and 34 feet tall, parked on the grass outside. Inside, they’ve packed the three-story building with information about World War II, moving forward to modern technology in warfare.
Theater of War: China, Burma, India Theater
I learned more about military conflicts overseas and World War II from the exhibits at this museum than I did in my high school history classes. This section explains how, in 1942, the U.S. was involved in shuttling supplies to a fledgling Chinese nation under brutal attack from Japan. To get necessary supplies into China and push back opposing forces, U.S. aircraft flew over “the hump,” their understated name for the Himalayas.
The museum’s displays explained the United States’ involvement in the conflict and included artifacts like uniforms from the U.S., Japanese, and Chinese from this time.
One of my favorite exhibits was a wall dedicated to the women pilots of WWII. Despite their work in the war, the U.S. government didn’t officially recognize these women as military personnel nor provide them with veteran’s benefits until 1977. Until then, the government considered them civil servants.
Next, a full-size diorama depicted what a plane mechanic’s workstation looked like inside the hangar. This detailed display, with an actual plane inside of it, showed the tools and supplies necessary for keeping planes in the air.
More life-like replicas abound at this museum. Also on the first floor, is a model of a large plane with the side cut out where they’ve strategically placed mannequins inside with an explanation of what each airman’s job was on board the aircraft, like a tail gunner, bombardier, and flight engineer.
Korea: The Forgotten War 1950-1953
According to the information at the museum, the Korean War began when Northern Korea tried to force reunification with the south. In addition to ground troops, the U.S. military provided air support, using planes that are now on display at the Museum of Aviation. Additional displays included information about prisoners of war and the uniforms worn by troops.
God is My Co-Pilot
On the second floor, we visited an area that looked out of place, though it didn’t take long for us to discover its connection to a museum about flight. The entrance to the exhibit resembled an old cinema. Inside, a small theater played a video about a movie made in the 1940s, based on a book called God is My Co-Pilot by Colonel Robert L. Scott.
Colonel Scott was a Georgia resident, born in Macon in 1908. The Warner Robins Museum of Aviation requested the colonel donate a few items to the museum for the exhibit about his life. Reportedly, the colonel loved the area so much, he decided to stay in the city of Warner Robins until his death at the age of 97.
This exhibit is a testament to the life of a local military hero – complete with a small replica of the Great Wall of China, which Scott walked across in his seventies.
Technology & Warfare
For a more modern military education, the second floor of the Eagle Building has an Electronic Warfare Exhibit with advancements in technology live drones and rovers, as well as tactical changes to camouflage uniforms.
Century of Flight Hangar
There was an event going on in the Century of Flight hangar, which restricted our access to the auditorium on the bottom floor. We were allowed access to the second floor to see the planes they have on display like the SR-71 “Blackbird,” which was the fastest and highest-flying plane during its twenty-plus year use by the United States Air Force.
Scott Exhibit Hangar
Looking at the aircraft is fun enough on its own, but at this museum, we could sit in a few of the cockpits to get a pilot’s view. The Scott exhibit hangar had an OH-58 KIOWA, a single-engine U.S. Army helicopter, that my son loved to climb into and work the controls. A volunteer hopped into the helicopter with him, explained the different parts, and showed him how to fly it.
For machine buffs and mechanics, this hangar had displays of giant aircraft engines, some standing taller than a grown man. It’s interesting to get up close and see the intricate parts and connections which propel such enormous machines into the air.
After passing the engines, we came across the Tuskegee Airmen exhibit in the back. This section was of particular interest to my daughter, who wanted to learn more about the Tuskegee Airmen after watching the movie Red Tails.
Here, the museum had a life-size diorama of what the airmen’s barracks looked like, how they trained, and the planes they flew. There were separate displays about notable airmen like Lieutenant General Benjamin O. Davis, a West Point cadet and the first black general in the U.S. Air Force, next to information about the black women who served as nurses in the war.
On the opposite side of the hangar, the museum had a section dedicated to the air invasion of Normandy, including the paratroopers, flight uniforms, and personal equipment kits used by soldiers during WWII.
This was my favorite section of the building where the museum paid tribute to a little known battle during WWII, the Battle of Graignes (pronounced GREN-yay). I enjoyed not just learning about the paratroopers who landed in Graignes, France, but also walking through their replica of the provincial coastal town that was eventually destroyed by German troops. The relationship between the people of the small French town and the U.S. troops was an important part of the war, and something I had not previously known about.
In between the Tuskegee Airmen exhibit and the Invasion of Normandy section, over a dozen planes are displayed on the ground and suspended in the air. The largest was the B-29B Superfortress, which stood at 99 feet long with a wingspan of 141 feet.
In the Scott Exhibit Hangar, we saw peeked into the area where designated museum staff restore old aircraft. Though they’ve blocked the restoration area off from visitors, the area was visible from behind the partition.
Nugteren Exhibit Hangar
The Nugteren Hangar in the museum complex paid tribute to the aircraft from the Vietnam War. The planes, helicopters, and vehicles in this section stood in stark contrast to the larger aircraft used in WWII. This was the second hangar with a helicopter where we could sit in the cockpit.
I hopped inside the F-105D Thunderchief, a single-engine jet fighter used during the Vietnam War behind the information desk. We also took a few minutes to experience the cockpit of one of the most iconic aircraft of the war, the UH-1F Iroquois helicopter.
As U.S. troops fought in the formidable jungle environment in Vietnam, they used specialized vehicles and uniforms to help soldiers handle the unique tropical conditions. These were on display inside the building. As an added treat, veterans who served in the war were available at the information desk to answer questions.
The museum had a virtual reality simulator in the Eagle Building, available for an additional cost (there is no admission fee for the museum itself). We didn’t do this ourselves, on account of not wanting to vomit, but we watched another family on the simulator and it looked like they had a great time.
The four large hangars were not enough to hold all the museum’s aircraft, so they placed the remainder of them on the grounds around the buildings. Though some visitors walked around to see the planes up close, we drove the back road around the museum to see them from our vehicle.
This museum provided more than a learning opportunity. Though it would be impossible to come here and not pick up something we didn’t know before. At the end of the day, the best part of this place was the giant planes. Pictures can’t take in the scale of this exceptional place. The best way to experience it is to take a trip there. Then talk to the veteran volunteers who flew these aircraft and lived through some of these wars.
Know Before You Go
Address: 1942 Heritage Blvd., Robins AFB, GA 31098
Phone: (478) 926-6870
Hours: Mon-Sat 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.; closed on all federal holidays
Fees: This museum is FREE to the public. Donations are welcome.
Parking: There is ample parking available in the lot. During our last visit, the museum parking area had a tour bus, a school bus, and two large RVs with plenty of spaces still available for cars.
Accessibility: All buildings and bathrooms are wheelchair accessible. The Eagle Building and Century of Flight hangar have elevators that lead to the upper floors.
Restrooms: Restrooms are located in each museum building.
Pets: The museum allows service animals inside the building, but no pets.
Clearance: This museum is adjacent to the Air Force base, but is separate from it. You do not need special clearance or military affiliation to see the museum.
Have you visited the Warner Robins Museum of Aviation? Do you want to? What’s your favorite museum in Georgia? Leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!