The first weekend debut of a new $40.8 million hangar more than doubled attendance at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, figures show.
The number of visitors reached a peak of 9,493 on Saturday, and another 5,957 patrons walked in Sunday. On a typical summer weekend, the museum attracts 4,100 visitors on Saturdays and about 3,100 on Sundays, according to museum spokesman Rob Bardua.
Since the 224,000-square-foot expansion opened to the public Wednesday, the museum tallied a total of 28,505 visitors, compared to roughly 15,000 to 16,000 more typical of five days in the summer, Bardua said.
“We talked to people from every state in the union during those five days,” said John “Jack” Hudson, museum director.
Many planned their vacations around the opening of the new building, he said. Opening day attendance of 5,029 visitors Wednesday exceeded the 2,400 typically seen on a summer Wednesday.
The early numbers suggest the museum is on course to push attendance up after plummeting to 859,780 visitors last year compared to 1,146,087 in 2014, figures show.
Hundreds of people lined up before the doors opened on Wednesday and Saturday, Hudson said. The presidential collection of former Air Force One aircraft, four of which can be toured with a walk-through, and a massive XB-70 Valkyrie experimental bomber were among the most popular attractions, he said.
It marks the first time the public has had a chance to see the presidential collection and research and development planes since a former hangar behind the fence at Wright-Patterson was closed nine months ago to prepare for the move to the new building, the fourth at the main complex that typically attracts about a million visitors a year.
“We want people to come not just once, but to comeback again and again,” Hudson said. “Over time, we’ll add to what we have in this new building.”
The museum wants to land one of the current Air Force One Boeing 747s in flight, a KC-135 aerial refueling tanker, an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and a proposed B-21 bomber structural test vehicle, he said.
A Grand Opening Regional Working Group coordinated a $170,000 advertising campaign to draw tourists outside the area to see the new hangar. The museum has an estimated $40 million annual economic impact in the region.