Southern Museum of Flight Hosts Aviation’s Rich History

The Southern Museum of Flight is home to top historic aircraft and rare artifacts. (Charles Atkeison)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The adventure of flight and its history across the 20th century through today is on display at the Southern Museum of Flight nestled in a state rich in aviation history.

Located two blocks east of the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, this museum of flight features top military and civilian aircraft, historic artifacts from world wars, and remains a top educational location for schools and scouting programs.

On Saturday, August 25, the museum will host a special family fun day between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Admission is free and children are encouraged to attend to participate in several engaging activities such as aircraft building, a scavenger hunt, and much more.

Executive Director Dr. Brian Barsanti is proud of the the Southern Museum of Flight’s collection of 101 aircraft. (Charles Atkeison)

Historic Rare Aircraft Fills the Museum

Established in 1966, the museum’s collection of rare aircraft and historic novelties from the early days of aviation makes this a true destination stop for the aviation geek. The museum site is also home to the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame.

“It’s quite an aviation collection for a small organization but we have one of the largest collections in the south,” Southern Museum of Flight’s Executive Director Dr. Brian J. Barsanti said during a tour. “What separates us from other museums and what really gives us our unique identity is the collection — both military and general aviation.”

A few stand out aircraft include a McDonnell Douglas A-4F Skyhawk II dressed as the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. This A-4F honors former Blues solo pilot LCDR Mike Gershon who perished during a midair crash during the Niagara Falls air show in July 1985. The Navy’s flight demonstration team piloted the Skyhawks between 1974 until the end of 1986.

The Soviet Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter is a center piece as visitors begin their tour of the multi-wing museum. At nearly 60-feet long, the massive gun ship and troop transport was active during the Soviet-Afghanistan War.

The museum’s top displays also include the Korean War Jets exhibit, Tuskegee Airmen exhibit, and the Vietnam War Helicopters exhibit. One special collection centers around the flight of one B-25 Mitchell bomber and its place in history.

One display centers on the ill-fated flight of a B-25 Mitchell and its place in history. (Charles Atkeison)
B-25 Mitchell Display Recalls Storied Past

In April 1943, this U.S. Army Air Force B-25C departed the Army Air Base near Columbia, SC, to practice a bombing run over Lake Murray. While in flight, an issue arose as the left engine lost power and the crew guided the bomber down. The five crew members left the aircraft before it sunk in nearly 150-feet of water.

“Part of the museum’s mission is to tell the rich story of southern aviation, and alot of B-25 guys trained in South Carolina,” Dr. Barsanti said as he discussed its history. “A number of B-25s went down in Lake Murrary during the 1940’s, and it is important for us to tell the story. It will never be restored, but it will be preserved just as it was sitting at the bottom of the lake.”

In September 2005, the bomber was raised from the lake and was cleaned up, however the damage from the lake impact was not repaired. Today, the forward section of the B-25 rests upon a bed of dirt much as it did for 62 years.

In November, the museum will launch a Cold War exhibit showcasing aviation from the end of World War II thru the collapse of the Soviet Union called When the Cold War Got Hot. The multi-dimensional display will include artifacts, the Soviet Mi-24 helicopter and a new aircraft which will be unveiled.

Historic photographs and memorabilia decorate the walls across the museum. (Charles Atkeison)

The flight museum is open Tuesday thru Saturday from 9:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., and closed for major holidays. Admission prices range from a family membership package to general admission on the day you arrive. The museum also honors active military and their families with free admission. Donations to help expand the museum’s collection are also welcomed.

The Southern Museum of Flight is located at 4343 73rd Street North in Birmingham, and, as Dr. Barsanti points out, follow the green and white tourist signs as you drive down Aviation Ave.

(Charles A Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)