A tour through the extraordinary Pima Air & Space Museum in Arizona
Arizona is home to some fascinating attractions, including the Biosphere 2 and the Titan II missile museum. But one of the best lies on the outskirts of Tuscon, where you'll find the outstanding Pima Air and Space Museum, which we're featuring in this spectacular photo tour.
Started up in 1966 with the goal of preserving America's WW2-era aviation heritage, the museum has grown to become one of the biggest aviation museums in the USA, with more than 350 aircraft. Naturally, there are plenty of war birds on display, but the Pima team has made room for plenty of other oddities as well. Here are a few that caught our attention:
Starr Bumble Bee
The adorable Starr Bumble Bee was built to take a crack at the record for the world's smallest manned aircraft, with a 6'6 wingspan, a 9'4 length and a height of just 4'1. It took the Guinness record when it made its first flights in January 1984, and was capable of speeds up to 180 mph, but could only fly to a service ceiling of 3,000 ft due to its tiny wings.
Aero Spacelines Super Guppy
From one of the smallest planes ever, to one of the biggest ... the gob-smacking Aero Spacelines 377-SG Super Guppy is without doubt one of the PIMA Air & Space Museum's most compelling exhibits. It's freakin' huge – note Brianna for scale in our photo. Some 156 feet across the wings, 46 and a half feet high and 144 feet long with a hinged nose for cargo access, NASA used these things from the mid-60s to carry Saturn rockets around for the Apollo program, among other things.
The Pentecost Hoppi-Copter has a cute and cuddly name, but it's a horrifying personal flight device in practice. A backpack-mounted coaxial helicopter, the Hoppi-Copter weighed a crushing 78 kilos (173 lbs), was notoriously difficult to control, and had a tendency to smash its blades into thousands of lethal splinters if the pilot stumbled on take-off or landing. It was later developed in a format that offered the pilot a seat, but ... never took off, as it were.
Does the legendary SR-71 Blackbird need any further introduction? It's one of the fastest and most extreme aircraft ever built, and Pima is lucky enough to have one on display, as well as numerous bits and pieces.
This clown shoe-shaped oddity is the Columbia XJL-1 amphibious monoplane. Only three were ever built, and they never went into service for the US Navy due to "repeated structural failures of various parts."
Air Force One, circa 1961-65
This Douglas VC-118A Liftmaster – a militarized version of the old DC-6 airliner – served as Air Force One for President Kennedy in the 1960s, before he decided to switch to a newer Boeing VC-137, based on the 707.
Nakajima Ki-115 Tsurugi
If the Nakajima Ki-115 Tsurugi looks cheaply built, that's because it was only ever meant to be flown once. They'd fly with more or less whatever engine was available, and the landing gear would drop off after takeoff in case the poor pilot caught himself having second thoughts instead of ploughing himself nose-first into a ship on a Kamikaze suicide mission.
North American P-51 Mustang
There's something odd about the list of kills this Mustang has on its side. The pilot is celebrating air-to-air kills against Germany, Italy, Japan and ... America? This plane was flown by Lt. Louis E. Curdes, who may be the only man ever awarded a medal for shooting down a friendly plane.
He did so because he saw an American plane heading in to land at what Curdes knew was a Japanese base. Rather than allow the 12 crew on board to be captured, Curdes carefully shot out the C-47's engines, forcing them to ditch into the sea – about 50 meters from another downed pilot Curdes had been protecting in the area. All crew were rescued, completing a remarkable story.
There are many more remarkable aircraft in the gallery. Click through and enjoy! Of course, we couldn't feature half of what's actually on the ground, so stop by if you're in the area to enjoy these mighty birds first hand.
Source: Pima Air & Space Museum