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San Diego Air and Space Museum

In Balboa Park, the San Diego Air and Space Museum has a ton of rare and amazing aircraft, starting with two right out front. One is this Convair F2Y Sea Dart, the only seaplane to exceed the speed of sound.

For more details about the museum and tour, check out my article about this beautiful museum.

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Super supersonic

This is the other, an A-12 Oxcart, a slightly shorter sibling to the SR-71 Blackbird. 

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Spyplane

This was the 10th A-12 built, and flew reconnaissance missions in Southeast Asia in the late 1960's. Top speed: Mach 3.35, or 2,212 mph (3,560 km/h).

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IX

That's not Glamorous Glennis, the aircraft Chuck Yeager used to break the sound barrier. That aircraft is in Washington. That is however, the Apollo IX Command Module. 

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Smaller in person

You see these in videos and movies all the time, but in person it's astonishing how small they are. 

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Gumdrop

The crew nicknamed the CM "Gumdrop." Fun fact, the third stage of the Saturn V rocket that launched the Apollo IX mission is still in heliocentric orbit

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This display rocks

Moon rock! Specifically lunar basalt brought back on Apollo XVII. 

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Spirit III

This is the museum's second reproduction of the "Spirit of St. Louis," the first being destroyed by fire in 1978. Like most of the museum's reproductions, this one is airworthy. The original aircraft was also built in San Diego and is currently in the Smithsonian. 

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Nice view

Famously, Lindbergh and Ryan engineers had the front viewscreen removed to fit a larger fuel tank. 

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PBY

Look, I'm going to like any museum that has a Catalina. I love seaplanes in general, and the PBY especially. 

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Movie star

Built in San Diego, this example patrolled the western Pacific in WWII. After, it was used in the movie The Devil at Four O'Clock.

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Little MiG

Tucked under the Catalina's big wing is a little MiG-17, one of over 8,000 built. This one is believed to have been built in Poland, served in the East German Air Force and then later was sold to Egypt. 

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F-4

This McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II saw active duty during the Vietnam War, and was stationed on the San Diego-based USS Constellation.

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Cobra commander

The rotors of this Bell AH-1 Cobra slowly rotate. First built in the 60s sharing many parts from the iconic Huey, the Cobra is still in service today. This example was with the US Army from 1978 to 1993, and saw action in Grenada. 

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Movie Vega

This Lockheed Vega was a faithful reproduction for the movie Amelia about, you guessed it, Amelia Earhart.

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WWI

Few museums have as extensive of a collection of early aircraft as this one. Some are replicas, some are beautifully restored originals. 

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Trusty trusty

One of the museum's many original WWI/Interbellum aircraft, this Consolidated Trusty trained pilots in the Army Air Corps between 1928 and 1932. It's one of only two complete Trustys known to exist.  

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Jenny Jenny

A restored Curtiss JN-4D Jenny. This one was used in Hollywood, including during the filming of the Spirit of St. Louis movie, where it was reportedly flown by Lindbergh himself. 

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Resto 28

An original and beautifully restored Nieuport 28. Its early history is unknown, but in the 1930s it was used as a stunt plane in movies. 

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Repro 11

Though a reproduction, this Nieuport 11 was flown by its builder for 20 years. It's a sesquiplane, with a full-sized top wing and smaller lower wing.

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Original Spad

This Spad S.VII is one of the most original and complete WWI aircraft in existence. Over 95 percent are the original parts. The other 5 percent are from other Spads of the same era. It hung in the Smithsonian for over a decade. 

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Use of space

One of the things that impresses me most about this museum is its use of space. There are far more aircraft here than the square footage would suggest. 

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Red Baron

Probably the most famous WWI aircraft, in its most famous livery, even though they weren't actually that common, and the "Red Baron" usually flew other aircraft in less ostentatious colors. This, like all Fokker Dr.Is, is a replica. Unlike most replicas, however, this one is airworthy. 

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Poor Snoopy

How inappropriate to put Snoopy there, so close to his eternal nemesis. 

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Eindecker

A replica Fokker E.III that is, like the Dr.I behind it, airworthy. 

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All engine

A replica Gee Bee R-1. The original was built for racing and flown by Jimmy Doolittle. Top speed was just shy of 300mph (483km/h).

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Need for speed

It was fast, and with a short 25-foot wingspan along with a massive 22L, 800 horsepower engine, you'd expect it to be. 

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Chippy chopper

A tiny Robinson R44

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Seating for 4(-ish)

These are made at the same airport as the Western Museum of Flight, which has one of the only remaining YF-23 prototypes. 

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Other Ryan

Though most famous for the "Spirit of St Louis," Ryan Aeronautical of San Diego made a number of other planes, like this Brougham. It was similar to that more famous aircraft, but there were very few shared parts. 

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Peashooter

A Boeing P-26 Peashooter reproduction, one of only three to compliment the two remaining P-26s in existence. It took 11 years to complete. 

It's easy to see, visually, how the P-26 bridges the gap between the fabric-winged biplanes it replaced, and the more advanced WWII fighters that would follow just a few years later.

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WWII

Each section of the museum focuses on a specific era, roughly chronological in a counter-clockwise fashion. Here we're moving into the WWII era.

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Certain size

A ball turret from a B-24 bomber. I seriously can't imagine how terrifying it would be stuffing oneself into one of these tiny spaces, hanging out of the bottom of an aircraft and getting shot at.

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Mustang

The museum's P-51 Mustang was built and sent to Europe in 1945, only to return to the states a few months later. It's currently painted in the colors and markings of Tuskegee Airman Captain Roscoe Brown. Above is a reproduction of a Bf 109.

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Flying wing

The Horton Ho 229 is a fascinating airplane. It was the first jet-powered flying wing, and was rumored to be an early stealth aircraft, though those claims were likely blown way out of proportion. This replica was built by Northrop Grumman to test those claims.

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C-47

One of the most successful aircraft in history, over 10,000 C-47s were built, and some remain in service. Not bad for a design that first flew in 1941. Just the cockpit is on display here, however. The Palm Springs Air Museum has one that still flies. 

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Carrier hero

A F4U Corsair, wings folded to save space here just like it would have been on a carrier at sea. 

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Local hero

This example has a long history, first being in service with the French. It's currently painted in the colors and markings of longtime San Diego Padres announcer Jerry Coleman's Korean War-era aircraft.  

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Unmistakable undercarriage

The unmistakable dive brakes of an SBD Dauntless.

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Early cat

This is one of the first Hellcats, a testing model that never saw combat. 

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Nemeses

A Hellcat, a Corsair with a replica Zero above.

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Skyhawk

This Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, which flew in the 60's, has the markings of Commander Green, an A-4 pilot shot down in Vietnam in 1972. 

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Two seater

And if you thought the Apollo capsule was small, here's a replica of the one from the Gemini missions. The whole thing is about the size of an SUV, with a lot less room to move around.

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RL10

When we think of rockets, we think massive engines to launch them into orbit and beyond. Some of those engines are a lot smaller than you'd think. This RL10A-4-1, for example, is shorter than me, and is a version of an engine still in production today. 

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Hornet

This F/A-18 Hornet, in the Blue Angels livery, did actually fly with them for many years.

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Blue Angels

The Blue Angles have been flying F/A-18s since the mid-80's. Before that were A-4s and before those, F-4s, both types coincidentally elsewhere at this museum.

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Space truckin'

A full-scale mock-up of the Apollo Service and Command modules. 

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To infinity, and beyond

Don't let the size fool you, there are a lot of cool aircraft here. If you're really into it, there's even an annex about a half an hour by car at Gillespie Field. There are a few more aircraft, mostly jets, and entrance there is free. 

The main museum is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Adult entry costs $19.95 (roughly £15, AU$30), and kids cost less. 

For more info about the museum and this tour, check out: Witness aviation history at the San Diego Air and Space Museum.

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