A $40.8 million expansion of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force will open June 8, museum officials said Wednesday.
The years-in-the-making, privately financed 224,000-square-foot fourth hangar was expected to draw more visitors to the world’s largest military aviation museum that attracts more than a million people every year.
“We do expect an increase (in attendance), said Rob Bardua, museum spokesman. “There’s been a lot of excitement about the fourth building and we’ve certainly received a lot of calls and emails.”
Air Force museum representatives have said the new hangar would open to the public in June, but Wednesday marked the first time a date was released.
“It’s been one of the questions we’ve been asked most frequently over the past several months,” Bardua said. “We wanted to get that out so people can begin planning their trips.”
An opening weekend of events, still in the planning stage, is scheduled June 11-12, Bardua said.
Museum curators began moving historic and exotic experimental aircraft into the new hangar this fall, including the delta-winged XB-70 Valkyrie supersonic bomber, the hypersonic X-15 rocket plane and the YF-23 Black Widow II advanced tactical fighter.
The aerospace artifacts were moved out of an old, restricted-access hangar at Wright-Patterson to the main museum complex, opening the door for thousands of visitors to see the exotic and historic presidential and experimental research planes for the first time.
Yet to be moved is the so-called JFK Air Force One, the blue and white presidential Boeing 707 that carried President John F. Kennedy’s remains to Washington, D.C., after his Nov. 22, 1963 assassination in Dallas, Texas. The jet was the same plane Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as president immediately after Kennedy’s death.
Bardua said that plane will move to its new home this spring. As of now, 52 aircraft have been towed into the new hangar.
When finished, about 70 aircraft, missiles and space artifacts will be on display in four galleries: Presidential, Research and Development, Space, and Global Reach. In the years ahead, the museum hopes to corral a Boeing 747 flying as Air Force One, which would mean placing three planes in storage and relocating another in a different display hangar, according to Bardua.
A giant Titan IVB rocket weighing 96 tons will be reassembled inside the new hangar, and three learning nodes will teach visitors about science, engineering and aerospace topics.
Construction on the new building began in July 2014. A ceremonial groundbreaking the month before work started brought high-level Air Force leaders, including Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, then-Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer, and former Air Force Materiel Command leader Janet Wolfenbarger, the first four-star female general in the Air Force.