If you’re fascinated with airplanes and the military, a good aviation museum is a great way to spend the day. Filled with real airplanes and hundreds of artifacts to suit everyone’s fancy, these facilities truly offer something for everyone. The state of Illinois has a total of 17 of these museums, so you’ll never run out of things to look at and study while you’re there.
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Illinois is known for a lot of things, but a lot of people aren’t aware of the role it played in aviation. For instance, the first flexible parachute was developed there in 1880, and in 1912, Katherine Stinson became the first woman to obtain a pilots’ license for a Wright aircraft.
In 1911, Chicago hosted the very first U.S. International Aviation event, which was nine days long and attracted some of the most important pilots from across the globe.
When it comes to these museums, there is a little bit of every type of memorabilia you can imagine within their walls, including thousands of old photographs and documents, military and space uniforms, medals and certificates, and of course, more planes than you can blink an eye at, including both antique planes and airplanes that are still used today.
If you’re interested in getting started with your visits to these museums, you can study them first because most of them have great websites that will give you the information you’re looking for. In addition, below are some details about all 17 museums that are certain to whet your appetite for more.
1. McLean County Museum of History (Bloomington)
This museum is open every day except for Sunday throughout most of the year. There is a fee to enter, but it is waived on Tuesdays, which makes this day the perfect time to visit them. The Tilbury Flash is one of the airplanes housed there, and you can find out more about the museum by contacting them at 309-827-0428 or by visiting their website at www.mchistory.org.
2. Prairie Aviation Museum (Bloomington)
Open Thursday through Sunday most days of the year, the museum is home to artifacts from personal collections and elsewhere and includes a hands-on flight simulator and a mini-theater, as well as other memorabilia. It also houses over a dozen different aircraft, including the Cessna 310B, North American F-100 Super Sabre, Douglas R4D-3 Skytrooper, and the Vought A-7A Corsair II, among others. They can be located online at http://prairieaviationmuseum.org.
3. Illinois Aviation Museum (Bolingbrook)
This museum is open on Saturdays only and accommodates group tours by appointment only. They only ask for a small donation as an entrance fee, and some of the aircraft housed there include the Rutan Long-EZ, a replica of the Fokker E III, North American T-2C Buckeye, and the Lockheed T-33A, among others. If you’d like to get additional information, you can contact them by calling 630-771-1937 or by visiting them online at www.illinoisaviationmuseum.org.
4. Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum (Cahokia)
The museum is open Friday through Sunday and has a gift shop for picking up souvenirs on your way out. Housed there is a Lockheed JetStar that was once owned by Howard Hughes, as well as planes that include the Meyers OTW-125, Team Minimax, Bede BD-5B, and the Osterreich Aero Club Standard Austria, which is a type of glider, as well as a replica of the Pietenpol St. Croix Jenny.
5. Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago)
The museum is open daily most days of the year, and they have a gift shop on-site for finding great souvenirs once your visit is complete. They house roughly 10 different aircraft, and this includes the Boeing 40B, Travel Air Mystery Ship “Texaco 13,” a replica of the Curtiss D Pusher, and the Supermarine Spitfire F.Ia, to name a few. You can visit their website at www.msichicago.org.
6. Glenview Naval Air Station Museum (Glenview)
This is a small museum that is only open on Saturdays and Sundays, but it is free to visit and contains tons of interesting artifacts, including a plane engine from the wreck of a Navy plane during World War II, as well as memorabilia from the United States Coast Guard and the HH-52A. You can get additional details on the museum through their website at www.thehangarone.org or by calling them at 847-657-0000.
7. Great Lakes Naval Museum (Great Lakes)
This museum is open Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday and offers free admission. If you’re interested in anything relating to the Navy, this is the perfect museum for you. It includes lots of artifacts that educate you on the Navy’s mission starting with the American Revolution to the present day. You can visit their website at www.greatlakesnavalmuseum.org if you need additional information on what they do.
8. Heritage in Flight Museum (Lincoln)
Open only on Saturday, the museum has an outside display that is always in plain view and other memorabilia as well, including an actual World War II barracks from Camp Ellis and more. A lot of the artifacts have been dedicated by veterans from all over, and there are hundreds of them from various time periods starting with World War I.
9. Vintage Wings & Wheels Museum (Poplar Grove)
This museum is open from May 1 to September 30, Thursday through Sunday, and houses aircraft such as the Aeronca 65CA Super Chief, Spartan 7W Executive, Cessna AW, Fleet 7, and the Corben B-1 Baby Ace, among others. You can get additional information by visiting them at www.poplargrovewingsandwheels.com or by calling them at 815-547-3115.
10. World Aerospace Museum (Quincy)
The facility is open Monday through Friday, but you must schedule an appointment ahead of time to visit it. They find aircraft from former Soviet block countries and bring them to the museum, and their planes include the Aero L-39C Albatross, Aero L-39MS Albatross, Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-29A, and the Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21UM, among others. They can be contacted by calling them at 217-885-3143 or by visiting their website at www.jet-warbirds.com.
11. Chanute Air Museum (Rantoul)
Although currently closed, the Chanute Air Museum was home to dozens of different aircraft to view and study, including the North American AGM-28A Hound Dog, a cockpit of the Boeing B-52D Stratofortress, a replica of the 1896 Chanute glider, a replica of the Wright flyer, and the Piper PA-22-135 Tri-Pacer, among many others. It was formerly located just north of Champaign.
12. Midway Village Museum (Rockford)
Open most days of the year except for Monday and sometimes Sunday as well, their hours change depending on the season, but can be viewed on their website at www.midwayvillage.com. There is an admission fee and also a gift shop in case you’d like to take home a souvenir, and some of the planes housed there include the Bell UH-1M Iroquois and the Stinson SM-1 Detroiter. They can also be contacted by phone at 815-397-9112.
13. Air Combat Museum (Springfield)
This museum is open either Monday through Friday or Tuesday through Friday depending on the season and houses more than a dozen different aircraft. These include the Stearman C3-B, Beech T-34A Mentor, Walter Extra EA-300L, Taylorcraft L-2M Grasshopper, and the Aero Commander 500U, among others. You can get additional details on their current displays by calling them at 217-522-2181 or by visiting their website at www.aircombatmuseum.org.
14. Illinois State Military Museum (Springfield)
This museum is open Tuesday through Saturday and is free to enter. The aircraft housed there include the Bell AH-1S Cobra and the Bell UH-1A Iroquois. If you’d like additional information on their many exhibits, you can contact them at 217-761-3910.
15. Classics Museum of Aviation (Sugar Grove)
Open on Saturday and Sunday on most days of the year, the Classics Museum of Aviation charges an admission fee and is located one mile west of the main airport entrance. Some of its many artifacts include military and other types of uniforms, vehicles, and memorabilia dating back to the 1930s to the present time. They also include many types of aircraft, including the Republic F-105D Thunderchief, Bell UH-1H Iroquois, McDonnell F-4B Phantom II, and the North American P-51D Mustang, to name a few. They have nearly a dozen different planes to study and view.
16. First Division Museum at Cantigny (Wheaton)
This museum is closed during the month of January and on certain days of the year, and their hours of operation change depending on what season it is. You can find this information on their website at www.firstdivisionmuseum.org. Admission to the museum is free, and it houses aircraft such as the Bell UH-1M Iroquois. Their complete collection of artifacts includes items such as tanks and artillery pieces, and you can even climb on the 11 tanks currently on display.
17. Russell Military Museum (Russell)
Located just south of the Illinois/Wisconsin border, the museum is open daily most days of the year and has a gift shop in case you’d like to find a souvenir before heading home. Dozens of aircraft are housed there, including the Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican, Cessna O-2A Super Skymaster, Hiller OH-23B Raven, Bell UH-1A Iroquois, and the Vought TA-7C Corsair II, among others. You can get additional information on the museum by visiting their website at www.russellmilitarymuseum.com or by calling them at 847-395-7020.