Monday, February 6, 2012

San Diego Air and Space Museum features historic aircraft, and a special connection to Ford

Since the car events are a little on the light side in Kansas City during the winter months, I’ve tried to bring you stories from various places outside of town. In the past couple of months, we’ve visited car museums in St. Louis, the auto show in Detroit, and auto collections in San Diego.

This is the last story in the San Diego series, and although the San Diego Air and Space Museum isn’t strictly an automotive collection per se, it does have some things that I think may be of interest to the readers of this blog.

I actually was in the Balboa Park area to visit the San Diego Auto Museum, but this literally shares the same parking lot. There are several museums all clustered together here, and you are right in the vicinity of the famous San Diego Zoo, should that pique your interest.

The first things that hit you when you pass through the doors of this museum are the Convair YF2Y Seadart and the A-12 Blackbird, which arch over the front doors. The second thing that hits you is the cost to get in--$17.50. I thought about turning around and leaving, but my cab wasn’t due to arrive for another hour, and I do enjoy this old stuff, so out came the old wallet.

There are several pretty significant aircraft in here. The actual Apollo 9 Command Module, also known as “Gumdrop,” was right there in the lobby. This thing was the first Lunar Module to perform a manned spaceflight in 1969. I’m talking outer space, man. Outer space. Luckily, I didn’t notice any odd radioactive waves or other concerns, even though I was right up next to it.

They’ve got some great sub-collections, with aircraft split up by World Wars and time periods. They have a fully operational Spirit of St. Louis replica (another is located in St. Louis, while the original is in the Smithsonian), some great, old dogfight planes like a P-51 Mustang, and an F/A-18 Hornet done up in the impressive Blue Angels livery.

Since we normally talk about cars here, I can tell you that there is an obvious Ford theme running through the San Diego Air and Space Museum. You almost can’t have any kind of museum without a Model T, and they had at least three of them. One was a yellow speedster that was displayed as part of an early stunt show, one was a World War I ambulance, and one was an old mail truck. They were the normal well-patina’d museum-style cars, but at least they were a familiar sight when I started getting overwhelmed by airplanes.

They also had a ’33 Ford Roadster that had lived through World War II in a barn in France. It was a neat old car with an interesting history. It was sitting next to a nice-but-not-perfect ’32 Ford V8 Phaeton.

Those last two cars were in a large, bright area of the building known as the Edwin D. McKellar Pavilion of Flight. They obviously use this room to hold meetings and presentations, because there’s a little stage and lots of open area. They also had one more Ford in there—an iconic Ford Tri-Motor plane. Several other larger aircraft were also on display here, propped up off the ground.

Actually, several aircraft were either displayed hanging from the ceiling, or up high on stilts. I’ve been to other air museums that had more stuff on the ground, and I have to say, I like that better. I’ve seen lots of planes in the sky, so getting an up-close, ground-level view is better, in my opinion. Of course, they kind of had to work with the space they were provided with, and putting them back in the sky certainly allowed them to cram more stuff in their smallish space.

I can forgive the tight quarters after learning a little history on the building, though. This is actually called the “Ford Building,” and it was built by Ford Motor Company for the California-Pacific International Exposition, which was held in 1935 and 1936. And get this—the 45,000-sq/ft building was built in the shape of an “8,” as in V8 engine! Even the fountain in the center courtyard was made in the shape of Ford’s V8 logo. Ford displayed a bunch of new cars in the building during the exhibition. Can you imagine a company building something like this for a temporary display? The Air and Space Museum moved into it in 1980 after their previous location was destroyed in an arson fire.

You want pictures? We’ve got pictures. Check out the slideshow below.


  1. Very cool - thanx for sharing. Tons of neat stuff, but it was worth it just for the Zeppelin model and the GeeBee alone imho. All the other cool stuff is just icing on the cake!

  2. I've been to San Diego tons of times on business and never taken the time to visit these museums. Now you have given me a reason to check them out next time I am out there. Thanks!