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It had the makings of a very special day. After months of work, the brand new $38 million, 130,000-square-foot facility near 100-year-old Ellington Airport (EFD) would open to the public on Sept. 1 as the new home of Houston’s Lone Star Flight Museum. Then an uninvited guest showed up: Hurricane Harvey, with 130-mph winds and 50 inches of rainfall, and suddenly, it didn’t seem right to have a grand opening. Even though the damage to the building was minor and its planes were fine, employees and visitors had bigger things to deal with — of the 30 employees, at least four families were evacuated and several more lost cars and property in the floods. The museum delayed its debut until Sept. 16, with a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony two weeks later.
Hopefully it’ll have better luck in the future because even though not everything was fully operational during my visit a week after its delayed opening, it’s easy to see that this is a very special place for anyone who likes aviation. From the artwork to the education center and actual flights you can take in vintage aircraft, the museum was flying high.
In the spirit of #HoustonStrong, the museum offered pay-what-you-can admission until Oct. 1, after which prices reverted to $20 for adults, $16 for seniors, $14 for students and youth ages 5-11, and free entry for children ages four and under. Note that you can also save $2 by purchasing tickets online — there’s free admission for museum members as well as discounts for active and retired members of the military.
The entry hall was tall, airy and impressive. Off to one side was an art gallery, with the current exhibit displaying aviation paintings by Douglas Ettridge.
On the other side was the Aviation Learning Center, with a fantastic three-module STEM curriculum that could accommodate up to 36 students at a time for a two-hour course.
Participants got to spend 30 minutes in a flight simulator as part of a hands-on lesson covering weather and navigation. Then came the crown jewel: planning and executing a facsimile flight in a real Mooney M20 aircraft with functioning lights, flaps and ailerons.
Two modules of the course were available to the public as the Pilot Experience for $10 for an hour, plus regular museum admission.
Two hangars housed more than 40 exquisitely restored aircraft. I was amazed how spotlessly clean the planes and hangars were, especially considering that some are still actively flown (more on that later). Under some of the engines, pans collected dripping oil.
Though the aircraft were roped off, you could still get some great points of view.
Though most of the hangars’ contents were US military aircraft — some with actual combat experience — there were exceptions, including a civilian DC-3, a Bell TH-1P Cobra helicopter, a MiG-17 and a 1941 Dodge command car.
Some displays had interactive touch screens, which were intuitive and interesting — especially the 360-degree cockpit views — but there weren’t many to go around. There was no wait to use them on a Sunday morning, but I could imagine the delay when this place is crowded.
Each hangar had spots that looked onto the second floor, which helped me appreciate the scale of each aircraft.
I also appreciated the section covering aviation history and the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame, which included a variety of people you probably wouldn’t imagine seeing in one place.
At the time of my visit, the museum was still ramping up to full operation and was experiencing minor growing pains — the Warbird Flight Experience was supposed to have a movie playing but didn’t, another movie at the orientation theater had not yet arrived and the café was just a few tables and vending machines.
A huge attraction had also not started yet: Flight experiences — actual flights in actual vintage aircraft — were slated to begin later this month and prices for flights (35 to 40 minutes, with 25 to 30 minutes in the air) ranged from $250 in a Cessna T-41 Mescalero to $450 in a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. As of this writing, six different aircraft were scheduled to be available for flights.
As good as the display of vintage aircraft was, what really set the Lone Star Flight Museum apart were its educational program and flight experience. There were so many ways to learn, whether it was a “knowledge hunt” for kids or a flight experience for grown-ups.
The gift shop was an #AVGeek’s dream, with vintage planes on everything from shot glasses to teddy bears.
If you’re flying through Houston, consider stopping by. It’s only about a 20-minute drive from William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) and about 45 minutes from George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH). It’s a great way to make your layover fly by.
Have you been to the Lone Star Flight Museum yet? Let us know what you think, below.
All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.
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