Air Zoo: The Total Flight – and Educational – Experience

KALAMAZOO, Mich., June 14 /PRNewswire/ — Stepping into the Air Zoo, you’re likely to hear delighted screams as visitors are flipped, rolled and turned inside-out as they test their skills in the 360 degree full-motion F-18 simulator. Farther to the left, a child giggles with glee as he and his family are transported up and down and around in a circle on the hot-air balloon ride. At the same time, children can be heard yelling for their parents to look as they “fly” kid-sized biplanes on another ride.

This innovative aviation museum — yes, a museum — is the first of its kind in the world. Combining an indoor amusement park with hands-on learning and artifacts, the Air Zoo is leading the way in a new wave of the public’s view of museums. No longer do museums have to have the dusty, stuffy, uninteresting perceptions many people associate with them.

“The Air Zoo doesn’t just teach people about history, it surrounds them with it,” says Executive Director Bob Ellis.

Surrounds them is right. Visitors walk through a vision of clouds to reach the Air Zoo’s main floor. Once inside, the Guinness World Record(TM) largest indoor mural — measuring 36 feet high and over 1,000 feet long — surrounds the entire floor and takes visitors from the beginning of flight with hot-air balloons to today’s advances in flight technology, including space exploration.

The Midwest’s only 4-D theatre offers visitors a chance to experience a B- 17 bombing mission during World War II. Walking into Missions Theatre, built like a Quonset hut briefing room, guests are treated as pilots ready to take off on a dangerous mission.

Immersed in the story of the “Kalamazoo Gal,” visitors experience surround sound, drop down seating with vibration and special effects such as lighting, wind and aroma as the crew flies the risky mission. The simulation — dedicated to the airmen who died in World War II — is meant to help guests understand the risks and sacrifice these heroes endured to preserve freedom.

Another ride is the full-motion 3-D space shuttle simulator. Here, visitors are treated to a flight to the International Space Station from take- off to landing. The flight doesn’t go as smoothly as planned and visitors need to hold on as a few bumps along the way jostle them about.

“We were on fire!” one child exclaims to an adult waiting for him as he makes his way off the ride. “When we were landing, we didn’t know if we were going to make it back. That was so cool! Can I go again?” That’s what the Air Zoo is all about: immersing visitors in the history, science and fun of flight.

Of course the museum wouldn’t be complete without a fantastic collection of vintage aircraft … over 80 to be exact. Highlights of the collection include the world’s only remaining Curtiss XP-55 Ascender and Lockheed SR-71B Blackbird — which still holds world records in speed and altitude.

The Air Zoo, located at 6151 Portage Road, Portage, Michigan. Admission is $19.50 for adults, $17.50 for seniors 60-plus and $15.50 for children, aged 6-15 and includes unlimited access to all theatres, simulators and rides in the new museum, and the Flight Education and Research Center, which houses an additional 35 aircraft. Children 5 and under enter free. Group rates are available for advanced purchase. For more information, please call 1.866.524.7966 or visit http://www.airzoo.org/

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