Joy Tipping, Staff Writer
Dallas Morning News
Published: 05 July 2012 08:38 PM
I’ve adored airplanes since I was a little girl taking frequent trips in my dad’s tiny red-and-white Piper Tri-Pacer, flying between Dallas’ Redbird Airport and various points in Oklahoma, where most of our relatives lived. Dad sold the plane when I was about 10 (I sobbed uncontrollably), but I’ve retained an inordinate fondness for anything with wings or a rocket. A few years ago, I had a chance to fly with the Blue Angels and turned it down (I was afraid I’d barf into my oxygen mask, forever ruining my daredevil reputation). I’ve never forgiven myself for that (Blue Angels, if you’re reading this, I’m here and ready to go).
Given my love of all things aeronautical, it was with great pleasure and anticipation that I took my first outing to the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Love Field. Well, I’d actually visited the museum long ago, when it was tucked into a corner of the Love Field terminal building, but since that visit, oh my, it’s gone way upscale.
The 24-year-old museum has, since 2004, been housed in a converted aircraft hangar on Love Field grounds, at the intersection of Lemmon Avenue and University Boulevard. Drive into the parking area and the first thing you’ll see is a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 jauntily half-in, half-out of the building.
Vice president of development Jess L. Hall tells me that when the museum got the plane, the wall was taken down and then rebuilt around the aircraft. In addition to large exhibits devoted to Southwest and Braniff airlines, the museum boasts such star attractions as the Apollo 7 command module (grubby from its space travels, awe-inspiring to behold); the one-of-a-kind Vought V-173 “Flying Pancake” (it looks like an awkward, bright-yellow flying saucer); a life-size reproduction of the Wright brothers’ plane flown at Kitty Hawk, N.C., in 1903; prominent mentions of Dallas-related aviation history; and the only moon rock on display in North Texas.
The museum’s “Walk Through Time” area of the main gallery includes sections devoted to Early Dreamers & Flyers, Balloons & Airships, the Golden Age of Flying (1919-1934), World Wars I and II, commercial and general aviation, modern warfare and space travel. You can listen to volunteers in character costumes describe the exploits of Amelia Earhart, “Dr. Moonwalker” and others. Some lectures are given by area residents who actually flew the planes and lived the history, with visitors perched reverently on seating made of airplane seats and Air Force footlockers. Mini-theaters throughout the building offer video enhancement for the various exhibits.
The fun gift shop has everything from flight-gear-decked-out rubber duckies to children’s flight suits, miniature airplanes and toys to aviation patches and pins. You can also pick up an official “Area 51” Restricted Area Pass.
Hall says the museum gets more than 130,000 visitors each year. When I was there, the guest book entries from the past few days showed visitors from Mississippi, Virginia, Louisiana, Indiana and Alaska, as well as Mexico, France and Canada. Frontiers of Flight also hosts lots of weddings, birthday and other parties, and corporate events, and offers a banquet of educational opportunities. This summer’s hands-on Flight School camps for kids from pre-K through 10th grade started in June and continue through early August. (For info on the remaining sessions, see Family Fun briefs on Page 46. )
Melanie Romero, 12, of Dallas has been attending Flight School for three years. She’s in this year’s Aero Lab class for seventh- and eighth-graders, learning about flying weather, aerial charts, navigation and more. She says she loves “the way everything fits together, and how you have to know different ways to fly — it’s not just one way for every plane.” Her favorite experience so far has been building and launching a rocket in a previous class.
Joshua Hutchins, 12, also from Dallas, is in his first Flight School class. He says he “wanted to experience what it would be like to fly in a helicopter, and to design my own helicopter.” Joshua was surprised to learn all the mechanics behind “how the wings get you lifted off the ground.”
In the education area, a hallway is painted like a runway, with an actual runway designation. A large play area, funded by real estate doyenne Ebby Halliday and her family, features a 24-foot flight tower that kids can climb. Teensy planes revolve around the upper area, giving kids a glimpse at being an air-traffic controller.
Aside from the museum’s large collection of gorgeous planes (be sure to go to the second level for an eye-level view of the aircraft suspended in the main gallery), I especially loved the historic artifacts, such as the actual radio operator’s seat from the doomed Hindenburg airship disaster in 1937, chilling audio from a reporter as he witnessed the explosion and the unexpectedly whimsical Hindenburg-shaped coin bank and chocolate molds (you can buy the chocolates in the gift store).
I also learned where the expression “flying by the seat of your pants” comes from: Most airmail pilots navigated, in part, by feeling the “G” pressure on their bodies through the airplanes’ seats.
The Southwest exhibit was also a personal favorite. You’ll see the famous “Texas Triangle” (Dallas-Houston-San Antonio) napkin drawing that inspired the creation of the airline (in both napkin and giant bronze renditions), and a display called “From Hot Pants to Cool Shorts” about the evolving fashion of employee uniforms (Hot pants! Irony alert: This is the same airline that last month bumped someone for “too much cleavage,” although Southwest later apologized to the passenger).
My advice for your visit to Frontiers of Flight: Give yourself at least two or three hours, and make sure you take in all the nooks and crannies of the main gallery area. With your eyes all starry from looking at the planes above you, you might easily walk right past some of the most interesting displays.
The museum is at 6911 Lemmon Ave., Dallas. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors 65 and older, $5 for ages 3-17, free for children under 3. Open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays 1 to 5 p.m. 214-350-3600. flightmuseum.com.