November 26, 2023

Museum Review - Frontiers of Flight

While in Dallas recently, Lord Nelson and I toured Frontiers of Flight, an air museum at Love Field, the old airport near downtown Dallas that mostly plays host to Southwest these days.

The main collection, bunched up for an event
Type: Medium-sized air museum
Location: Dallas, TX
Rating: 4.4/5, A quite nice air museum that avoids most of the cliches.
Price: $12 for normal adults


Now, for the first thing: for reasons that are unclear, the Dallas-Fort Worth area is home to about half a dozen air museums of varying size and focus. I was only able to visit one (Lord Nelson has completely unreasonable expectations about the appropriate amount of time to spend on things that aren't military/air museums) and picked Frontiers of Flight on the basis that it looked to have the most impressive collection.

Now, as for Frontiers of Flight itself, it's a lovely museum. It has an interesting collection of airplanes that avoids the typical cliches of air museums (no red-tailed P-51 and no B-25, although there was a model of Hornet launching the Doolittle Raid) and has a couple of real gems, the signage is excellent, and there's a lot of artifacts and displays about planes they don't have, which helps mitigate the fundamental problem of air museums. (Namely that it's really hard to have a given artifact (including a plane) hold anyone's interest for more than a minute or two, which means that only a few museums can provide a reasonable experience on the strength of their planes alone.)

Excellent use of models, which many museums only have in big cases with minimal signage

There are a number of airplanes outside, including a YF-16B, an EA-6B, a UH-1, an F-105, a T-33 and a Learjet, none of which are in great shape or have amazing signage, but they're cool enough to see. And, most notably, there's also about two-thirds of a 737-300, the last third of which is inside in the museum's Southwest Airlines section. That's a neat display, with lots of models and a few artifacts from the early history of the company, and you can go inside both the -300 and the nose of a 737-200 that they have. That said, it's a bit spartan, and could definitely do with a refresh. Next to it is a collection of aircraft simulators, including the only SR-71 simulator ever built. It was neat to see, although I do wish they'd done a better job of using the exhibit.

The "Flying Pancake"

The main hall was much better, even if a lot of the airplanes had been moved to one side on the day we went because of an event hosted earlier that day. They have an RF-8, an A-7, a T-38, a Regulus II, one of the last batch of Blue Angels Legacy Hornets, a T-38, a Learfan prototype and a bunch of prop planes. Oh, and the capsule for Apollo 7, adding one to my list of that type. But the pride of the collection was the Vought V-173 "Flying Pancake", a striking-looking and aerodynamically unique prototype tested by the Navy during WWII before the concept was rendered obsolete by the advent of jet aircraft. The fact that so many things had been moved made it easy to get up close to the planes, which was fun, and there were exhibits along the walls with models and explanations of a lot of different aspects of aviation history. Upstairs there were a few more exhibits, most notably one dedicated to defunct Dallas-based airline Braniff, as well as a screen showing operations at Love Field in real time. It was cool to watch a plane on the map, then have it fly by.

Apollo 7

On the whole, I would highly recommend Frontiers of Flight if you're in the Dallas area. It's not something like Dayton or Pima that can anchor a trip, but it's among the best medium-sized air museums I've ever visited. Lord Nelson went even further, naming it her favorite air museum ever on the grounds that it's "small enough you can do it with bean without getting bored, all the planes are accessible, and they have some cool unique ones".


  1. November 26, 2023Lord Nelson said...

    Damn right Frontiers of Flight is the best air museum! They had the flying pancake and a display with zeppelin chocolate molds.

    I dread the day we do Dayton. I'm likely to expire from starvation before we even get halfway through the museum.

  2. November 26, 2023The Fatherly One said...

    @Lord Nelson - On the day you do Dayton, you will need to bring a mop and a bucket....

  3. November 27, 2023Tony Zbaraschuk said...

    I was just there recently, and it's a really nice museum where I learned a lot!

  4. November 27, 2023Emilio said...

    The one to dread is Fantasy Of Flight in Florida, where most of the planes are airworthy.

  5. November 27, 2023bean said...

    I have come to suspect that airworthy planes are actually a bad thing for the visitor experience. I may be working on a post about that (among other things).

  6. December 01, 2023Kitplane said...

    Lets play Rank the Airplane Museums

    1) USAF Museum Dayton OH 2) Smithsonian Washington DC 3) Imperial War Museum Duxford UK 4) Pima Air and Space Museum Tuscon AZ 5) SAC Air Command Museum Nebraska 6) ?????

  7. December 02, 2023Emilio said...

    The Italian Air Force Museum has been renewed for the 100th Anniversary of the AMI, and 'musealized' (before a lot of it was a musty depot).

  8. December 02, 2023bean said...

    Hmm. I'd go Dayton, Pima, Udvar-Hazy, then probably NASM-Mall. Behind that, the standouts are probably Weatherford and Frontiers of Flight.

  9. December 02, 2023John Schilling said...

    Dayton is appropriately focused on military aviation, mostly USA(A)F, but if we're going for "best air museum" generally then I wouldn't give top spot to someplace with negligible civil and commercial representation.

    Smithsonian/Mall for general audiences, Udvar-Hazy for serious airplane geeks.

  10. December 02, 2023bean said...

    It's really going to depend on what criteria we use. I will completely agree that if you're talking about the general public, NASM-Mall is the best option, particularly once they get the rest of it open again. It's where I'd send, say, my brother, who is not notably interested in airplanes.

    But I'm going to challenge Udvar-Hazy for serious airplane geeks. It's excellent if you're a serious airplane geek doing a tour with other people, or someone moderately interested in aviation. It's a great museum, and an excellent cross-section of aviation history, but it's not quite big enough to have a lot of the really weird stuff that I find particularly exciting. If I really must have a broad cross-section of aviation to be in the running (although it is worth pointing out how many converted airliners there are at Dayton) then I'm going to pick Pima over Udvar-Hazy for "place serious airplane geeks should go" simply because of the size and diversity of the collection.

    As for Dayton, I defend it on the grounds that there's nowhere I've been that's better to do really serious airplane geekery. Yes, it has almost none of the best sort of planes (the kind that land on ships), but it's massive and filled with the sort of weird one-off planes that are the best to do geekery on. The only bit of Udvar-Hazy that had that same kind of feel was the exhibit on Mr. Hiller and his machines of death.

  11. December 06, 2023Kitplane said...

    Have you been to Pima Air and Space. I find it to be very different that most other museums.

  12. December 06, 2023muddywaters said...

    @Kitplane: see here.

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