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Climb into the cockpit of an F-104 Starfighter

The Palm Springs Air Museum is an aviation paradise, with rare inside access to a B-17 bomber, an F-4 Phantom, an immaculate P-51 and other amazing planes.

Geoffrey Morrison Contributor
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Geoffrey Morrison
3 min read
Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Ever wondered what it's like inside a B-17, the iconic bomber of WWII and dozens of movies? What about taking a peak inside the back of a C-47, the cargo plane that dropped thousands of paratroopers the night before D-Day? Ever wanted to check out the cockpit of an F-4 Phantom, F-100 Super Sabre or an F-104 Starfighter?

Well you can at the Palm Springs Air Museum. While there are other, larger museums, the collection at the PSAM is in fantastic condition. You can get right up close to all the aircraft and, in the cases I mentioned above, see in or even climb ­through the planes.

The museum's B-17, also known as "Miss Angela," is one of the last surviving Flying Fortresses and one of the only ones in the world you can get in and walk through.

Here's how the planes look up close and inside.

Tour a B-17 and other aircraft at the Palm Springs Air Museum

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I lucked out with the light. The desert sun was in exactly the right place, the fluffy clouds did their dance high in the sky. So when I took the above photos with a CPF, everything just popped. Maybe it won't look quite like this when you're there, but maybe you'll be lucky too. If you go in the summer, however, expect it to be hot. Palm Springs sits above 100 for the season, and a bit more on either end as well. Luckily for me, it wasn't too hot when I was there. 

An F-16, F/A-18 and A-6 greet visitors outside the museum. Until recently the museum consisted of three large hangars with a smattering of parked aircraft outside. I arrived a few days before they opened a new hangar, which already had several beautiful aircraft inside.

I started by walking down the apron. An event in one of the hangars the night before had required some aircraft rearranging, so several normally-housed aircraft waited patiently outside. 

One, a C-47, is not only used to going outside, it still flies. I didn't have a chance to go up, but it's available for private flights for you and your family or friends. The museum expects to have its P-51 available for flights next year too. A few other aircraft, such as a MiG, an F-14 and a fish-out-of-water PBY Catalina line the rest of the apron.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The new hangar houses jets, largely from the '50s, '60s and '70s. Rolling ladders let you peek into the cockpits of several of these iconic planes (though you can't actual sit in them).

Next door you'll find WWII-era propeller aircraft, including a B-25, along with a Hellcat, Wildcat and Tigercat. Cat trifecta. I was able to get the shot you see at the top before they wheeled the C-47 back into its hangar.

And that's where I headed next. There's a P-47 here as well, but one of the most interesting planes is next door. "Miss Angela" herself. A fully restored B-17 that you can climb inside. A rare treat for classic airplane aficionados. 

You climb in through the front hatch, behind the bombardier station. From here you squeeze upwards into the cockpit. It's amazing standing in this iconic space, which has appeared in so many movies and photographs. 

Moving toward the back of the aircraft you need to turn sideways to pass through the bomb bay. Move further along and you'll find the radio operator station. Step around the ball turret and you can look out through the waist gunner stations. The tail then tapers down so you have to duck before the aft hatch exit.     

The B-17 is incredible, but throughout the museum there are some stunning aircraft, made all the more interesting by being able to see inside, or even get inside. The Palm Springs Air Museum is just a few hours from Los Angeles. If you're on your way home from the huge Pima Air and Space Museum, the Boneyard or maybe a Titan II missile silo tour, it's well worth a visit.

As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarinesmassive aircraft carriersmedieval castles, epic 10,000 mile road trips, and more. Check out Tech Treks for all his tours and adventures.

He wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-size submarines, along with a sequel. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and his YouTube channel.