Traveling Around - Ashland, Nebraska - Strategic Air & Space Museum
Location Of The Museum
In the rolling prairies of eastern Nebraska between Lincoln and Omaha is located the Strategic Air and Space Museum. It is about 30 miles from either town and can be found about a half mile off Exit 426 on I-80. The museum was dedicated in 1966 as the Strategic Air Command Museum and was located in Omaha. It has been in a gradual state of expansion and remodeling since then. In the original museum, the emphasis was on the cold war command systems and weapons that might be used against the other major countries of the world. As international relations improved, the weapons became obsolete and the museum changed its emphasis to include the space age. In 1998 the current location was dedicated and the museum opened. The official naming as The Strategic Air and Space Museum occurred in June of 2001.
It is easily reached by automobile but other methods are not normally available. At times there are special arrangement bus tours from Omaha or from Lincoln. There are buses of school children touring a lot of the time as part of the activities of the museum are geared towards young people.
The Center of The Museum
The museum at was originally at Offutt AFB, adjacent to Bellevue, Nebraska, a suburb south of Omaha. It began with its first airplane in 1959 as the Strategic Aerospace Museum. At its initial opening, it housed one aircraft. It has now expanded to at least 17 different planes. It also has several rockets and space exploration vehicles as well as other activities designed to spark interest in aviation and related sciences.
There is a large parking lot that gives a view of the spectacular geodesic glass dome that is the center of the museum. Surrounding it are several impressively tall rockets.
Inside the geodesic dome is the welcome counter but immediately the eye is drawn to the mammoth airplane - an SR-(Strategic Reconnaissance)-71. It is the first plane that was moved to this site. Its sleek lines are mounted on three large pedestals that dominate the atrium area.
The lobby area on this level contains restrooms and a gift shop in addition to the customer service counter. Leading off the lobby is a stairway to a lower level which contains a meeting room. The museum can host groups of 30 to 700 in its facilities.
There is a cafe - "Plane Food" - located on this level. The menu includes various beverages as well as hot dogs, nachos, and pizza. Prices are moderate.
On this lower level to the east is a theater where a continuous movie is shown. When we visited, the movie tied in with the traveling exhibit that is located on the west side of the cafe. There are two additional special exhibits areas to the west of the cafe normally housing different exhibits. Restrooms are also located in this area.
A large area is just off the cafe and between the two larger display areas. It is used as the shop area and to restore aircraft prior to being on display in the museum proper.
To The East and The West
The major part of the museum is housed in two gigantic hangars on either side of the geodesic dome. Each of the hangars contains large and small aircraft from the Strategic Air Command days and some of these planes have become obsolete. Some are retired planes from currently active fleets.
The exhibits relating to space exploration and travel is constantly expanding as new discoveries are made.
The largest aircraft in the museum is the B-1A. It was designed to be a high speed low altitude strategic bomber and look like the image of a stealth bomber. The wings move backward and forward depending on the amount of lift required. When fully forward, the wingspan is 136' 8". When fully back it is 78' 2". The plane weighs 190,000 pounds when empty and 389,000 pounds when loaded with fuel and ammunition. Plans call for it to be moved from inside the museum to an area visible from the expressway. That move will require five cranes and cooperation from local traffic and utilities to accomplish.
There are 7 computer controlled motion simulators in the museum. They are auto-piloted programs; 2 are helicopter rides and 5 are roller coaster rides. Those above 250 pounds and below 42" cannot ride the motion simulator rides. Those between the heights of 42" and 47" must ride with an adult. Those above 48" can ride without an adult.
There is an attraction entitled "Space Shuttle Slide and Bouncer" It is primarily attractive to young people and those under 4 must be accompanied by an adult. Those between 4 and 12 must be supervised by an adult.
Four different educational programs have been offered. There are age restrictions on enrollment as some of the camps are geared towards young teenagers and some to preteens. The four this past year have been one on robotics, one on science, on on geography, and a generalized one covered several topics. There is a charge for these camps and preregistration is necessary. Further information on the camp activities is available at their workshop and camps website.
A "Birthday Blast" can be scheduled for young people with celebratory and educational activities provided. There are four different themed activities. These activities are geared to age groups with some as young as 3-5 years old. The activities are described with time, activities, and costs discussed on the Birthday Blast website.
Guided tours are available both by prior arrangement and on a daily basis at 11 AM. The tours take on the personality of the guide. Descriptions and anecdotes enhance the tours. If the guide and the tour group are compatible, the tour can extend far beyond the two hours scheduled.
There is a planetarium that has showing at 10:30 AM, 1:30 PM, and 3:30 PM on a daily basis. The program changes seasonally.
Admission charges and hours are explained on the museum's website.
We spent several hours at the museum and enjoyed it thoroughly. Our visit was made a lot of fun by the tour guide. He had lots of knowledge and was very readdy to explain the workings of both the museum and the exhibits in the museum using anecdotes to keep the tourists interested.