Air Force museum ranks 3rd nationally on USA Today list

The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force ranked third in a nationwide poll for best free museum in the United States.

The museum, which opened a more than $40 million expansion in June, landed in the No. 3 spot on the USA Today contest, according to the website.

“To be a part of the top three, when you look at the list of all those great facilities in there, it’s a great honor,” museum director John “Jack” Hudson said in an interview Tuesday. The Air Force museum was one of 20 nominated in the contest.

The museum, which has typically attracted about a million visitors or more a year, has had a surge in attendance this summer compared to the same period last year since the expansion opened. But the overall number of patrons thus far stands below 2015, figures show.

In June, attendance reached 111,157, a 17 percent jump over the prior June; in July, it recorded 135,901 patrons, up 33 percent; and in August, counted 87,184 patrons, an 8 percent hike. Overall, attendance for the year stands at 596,134, about an 8.2 percent decline compared to this time last year, figures show.

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Temporary closure of the presidential and research and development galleries and fewer special events earlier this year lowered attendance numbers, Hudson said.

The fourth building expansion showcases historic presidential, experimental and cargo aircraft, and spacecraft, among other sights.

In the poll, the National Infantry Museum & Soldier Center in Columbus, Ga., took the top spot, a place where visitors view 240 years of soldiers’ history, said.

An Ohio spot took the second ranking: The Cleveland Museum of Art was “a close runner up” for No. 2 in poll popularity among online readers, reported.

The Air Force Museum Foundation, a non-profit supporting the museum at Wright-Patterson, encouraged patrons to vote in the contest.

“To do well says great things about the museum itself and our partnership with their team,” spokesman Chuck Edmonson said in an email Tuesday. “Part of the foundation’s mission is to raise awareness of the museum, so we hope this will cause someone that never thought about it to come and see if for themselves.”

Additional museums that finished in the top ten were St. Louis Art Museum in St. Louis, Mo.; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Ark.; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Mo.; Frye Art Museum, Seattle, Wash.; Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, Minn.; The Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology), New York, N.Y.; and the American Computer & Robotics Museum, Bozeman, Mont.

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