Southern Museum of Flight
The Southern Museum of Flight is an aviation museum located at 4343 73rd Street North on the property of the Birmingham International Airport. It was established in 1966 by the Birmingham Aero Club as the Birmingham Air and Space Museum with its first exhibits on the campus of Samford University. Two years later, it moved to the terminal of the Birmingham airport, and in 1969 the name was changed to "Southern Museum of Flight".
In 1976 the museum purchased land near the airport for a permanent facility. The first two of four planned exhibit wings opened in 1983. The museum's director is Brian Barsanti. Admission to the museum is free for active military personnel.
In 2019 a proposal was publicized to move the Southern Museum of Flight from the airport to a new facility in the Daniel Corporation's Grand River development near Leeds. A year later it was announced that a planned Alabama Aerospace & Aviation High School would be located at the museum.
The Southern Museum of Flight features a valuable collection of aviation artifacts spanning the 20th century in the various areas of aviation. The "Flying Heritage Gallery" displays historical collections spanning eight decades of civilian and military aviation. Special collections of memorabilia shed light on the Red Baron, the Tuskegee Airmen, and the "Flying Tigers," as well as pioneers like the Wright Brothers and Amelia Earhart. The Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame, established in 1981, is also housed in the museum.
Some of the additional artifacts include knee-high aviator's boots from World War I, German-issue flying gloves from WWI, a cap and flying goggles from aviation's early days, and the trapeze and dental strap used in a local flying circus. Also included in the collection are more than 20 aircraft engines and extensive archives of documents and photographs covering the history of aviation in Alabama. The museum's research library, available to members by appointment, includes more than 2,500 items ranging from technical books to periodicals and videos.
The model gallery features an 11-foot long model of the USS Enterprise' aircraft carrier along with scores of exactingly-built model airplanes. A "Kids Hanger" provides hands-on interactive exhibits and programs. In July 2007 the museum added an interactive meteorology exhibit aimed at a school-age audience. In 2008 the museum completed upgrades to its air conditioning and sprinkler systems in the South Wing.
Other facilities include gift shop and a theater showing programs on the history of flight, early aircraft design, aircraft restoration and pioneers of flight. The "Sky Gallery" overlooks one of the exhibit halls and is used for temporary exhibits as well as for meetings of the Birmingham Aero Club and other aviation-related groups such as the Civil Air Patrol, the Experimental Aircraft Association, the 99s Organization for women aviators, WAVES International, the Birmingham Radio Control Association, the Birmingham Aero Modeler's Association, the Birmingham International Plastic Modelers Society and the Birmingham Rocket Boys.
A Korean War Jets exhibit opened in March 2010. A diorama depicting the famed 1953 defection of pilot No Kum Sok (now Kenneth Rowe) features an F-86 Sabrejet and a MiG-15 Fagot fighter. Rowe and Tom Feltman, an Alabamian who witnessed the event, attended the exhibit's opening.
Another exhibit featuring Vietnam War-era helicopters opened in April 2011. The display recreates the activities of the C Troop (Air) 16th Cavalry ("Darkhorse") with an AH-1G Cobra attack helicopter and OH-6 Cayuse scout helicopter on display.
The museum displays its own aircraft collection as well as craft on loan from the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida, the United States Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, and from the Army National Guard's 117th Air Refueling Wing based at Birmingham International Airport. The museum operates a 7,000 square foot restoration shop where volunteers have restored many of the aircraft on display.
- "Southern Museum of Flight" (December 21, 2006) Wikipedia - accessed January 19, 2007
- Bryant, Walter (April 19, 2007) "Hands-on history expands for students." The Birmingham News
- Bryant, Walter (July 30, 2007) "Flight museum adds exhibit on weather." The Birmingham News
- Ruisi, Anne (September 10, 2008) "Renovations under way at Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham." The Birmingham News
- Carlton, Bob (April 20, 2011) "Vietnam helicopter exhibit to open at Birmingham's Southern Museum of Flight." The Birmingham News
- Bash, Jared (March 24, 2015) "Alumnus Takes to the Skies at the Southern Museum of Flight" UAB College of Arts and Sciences
- Van der Bijl, Hanno (May 8, 2019) "Developer to build new regional entertainment destination in suburb." Birmingham Business Journal
- Coker, Angel (November 3, 2020) "New charter school with aviation, aerospace focus eyed for Birmingham." Birmingham Business Journal