The World’s Largest Aircraft Museums

From Leonardo da Vinci’s 33 feet wingspan flying machine to the Giant of the Skies A380, human flight has come from the dream of a few to an activity accessible to billions. Transitioning from vision to reality in December 1903, when Wilbur and Orville Wright made their first successful flights in North Carolina, aviation has a fascinating history full of engineering marvels and human ingenuity.

Smithsonian air and space
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, is one of the most visited museums in the world. Photo: Getty Images

The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

The largest aviation museum in the world is located in Washington, DC. The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum has the biggest collection of air and space travel artifacts anywhere on the planet. It house over 150 aircraft in its Boeing Aviation Hangar and about as many space-faring items in its James S. McDonnell Space Hangar.

Exhibition items include Charles Lindbergh’s ‘Spirit of St Louis‘ and the Apollo Lunar Module, a two-stage vehicle built to bring two astronauts from lunar orbit to the lunar surface and back.

As one of the most popular museums in the world, the number of visitors over the past decade (on a normal year) has ranged between six and a half and seven and a half million. While the museum may be temporarily closed to the public, it hosts virtual photo exhibits such as portraits of World War II women pilots via its blog. It also hosts a podcast called AirSpace.

China Aviation Museum
Part of the China Aviation Museum is located inside an old bunker system. Photo: Calflier001 via Wikimedia Commons

The China Aviation Museum

The China Aviation Museum in Beijing is home to over 200 aircraft. It was opened in November 1989 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Air Force of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

Part of the museum is built inside a cave on the side of Datangshan Mountain, previously a part of a tunnel and bunker system of a nearby air base. Its exhibits include Chinese fighter jets such as the Chengdu J-7 (a licensed version of the MiG-21) and the plane that used to be Chairman Mao Zedong’s personal transportation, an Ilyushin Il-18.

Tu-144 Monino
Russia’s Central Air Force museum outside of Moscow has a Tu-144 supersonic plane on display. Photo: Alex Beltyukov via Wikimedia Commons

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Russia’s Central Air Force Museum

In Russia, the Central Air Force Museum in Monino outside Moscow is one of the country’s most popular. It has 173 aircraft in its open-air exhibits, along with 127 aircraft engines. It is located at the Gagarin Air Force Academy. The museum showcases mostly Russian fighter jets from the 1960s and 70s, making it an incredible destination for anyone interested in Soviet aviation history.

However, among the display aircraft is also a Tupolev Tu-144, the world’s first, albeit not very commercially successful, supersonic aircraft. The Central Air Force Museum also hosts the flight uniform that Francis Gary Powers wore when his CIA U-2 spy plane was shot down during reconnaissance over Soviet airspace in 1960.

What is your favorite aviation museum? Have you visited any of the above? Tell us about it in the comments.