Air Zoo

Entertainment & Arts

North America, United States, Kalamazoo County

The Air Zoo, founded as the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum, is an aviation museum and indoor amusement park adjacent to the Kalamazoo-Battle Creek International Airport in Portage, Michigan. The Air Zoo holds many historical and rare aircraft, including the world's fastest air-breathing aircraft, the SR-71B Blackbird. Many of its antique planes are airworthy. Among its other attractions are a 180-degree theater that projects a 3-D simulation of a B-17 bombing mission during World War II; and various amusement rides, including flight simulators of a rocket trip to Mars, U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornets, a stunt biplane, a hot-air balloon, and more. The Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum was founded in 1977, "dedicated to preserving and displaying historical and military artifacts and to serving as a research and educational facility for this country and abroad." The doors opened on November 18, 1979, to great local acclaim, and the museum quickly developed into the 10-largest nongovernmental aviation museum in the United States. In 1994, the Restoration Center was added, allowing the museum to restore old aircraft to proper working order. In early 1999, the moniker "Air Zoo" was adopted, along with plans for a major renovation. On April 25, 2003, construction began on a new 120,000-square-foot (11,000 m) facility that would double the museum's size and add flight simulators, amusement rides, Smithsonian Institution exhibitions, character actors, and a 4-D theater that combines 3-D films with special effects such as rocking chairs and plumes of smoke to simulate anti-aircraft fire. When the new facility opened in April 2004, Air Zoo executive director Bob Ellis said, "The new Air Zoo doesn't just teach people about history, it surrounds them with it. There will always be something new to see. Because of our partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, the Air Zoo has access to over 142 million artifacts and an endless source of world-famous traveling exhibitions." The new building holds the world's largest largest indoor mural: "Century of Flight", by aviation artist Rick Herter, a 25,000-square-foot (2,300 m) tribute to the history of flight in the main entrance. The mural was inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records by Guinness research manager Stuart Claxton. Across the hall is the 168-foot (51 m) "Night to Day" mural by Miriel Williams. There is also a computer-generated background on an adjacent wall. In June 2007, the Michigan Space & Science Center opened in the old building (East Campus). The building features World War II aircraft, several artifacts from the defunct Jackson Space Center, and more.