WOW! I just spent some time in the newly opened Cradle of Aviation Museum and can recommend it to anyone who likes to be 'wowed.' The first thing to catch your eye is all the great planes hanging above your head. In the atrium, there's a Blue Angels jet and upon entering the staircase look up for a neat Sperry 1922 biplane. This is just the start! The second floor walkway allows a great overview of the ground floor exhibits - ranging from early flight to the jet and space ages. Come down the stairs and stat your tour with kites, gliders and hot air balloons. A demonstration balloon rises to the ceiling on a blast of hot air. Many of the museum's exhibits are surrounded by period memorabilia and costumed mannequins. Great displays tell the story of man's first attempts to fly and the progression through the years into today's rockets, jets and space vehicles. It's all neat stuff! Lots of vintage photos evoke the nostalgia of the early 1900's and the war years. Some hands-on exhibits help to demonstrate why a plane can go up and how it maneuvers while in flight. A young girl of about eight years old was fascinated with trying to 'steer' a demo plane. I enjoyed the exhibit about the Hempstead Plains, the 1913 Studebaker and the period costumes on the mannequins. Throughout the museum are exhibit cases housing mementos of the past eras, little theaters areas showing films, vintage posters and paintings and information galore. A very nostalgic exhibit brings us back to the WWI years with a 1910 military display describing how LI contributed to the war effort. LI became a training center and a center for research, testing and production of military aircraft. During WWII, LI produced 'tens of thousands' of military aircraft. On display are the Grumman F4F Wildcat and many other LI designed and built planes. People were enjoying the opportunity to sit in some of the cockpits on display and everyone seemed to be caught up in pretending to fly these machines! A museum volunteer docent, a retired Grumman engineer, chatted with me about the Grumman planes and the museum in general. Volunteers have spent years and years restoring planes and building replicas and models, and the results are exceptional. I was intrigued by a Peel Z-1 Glider Boat from 1929 (the only one left in existence). I enjoyed seeing the Grumman F3F-2, a 1938 replica made by volunteers - and of course - the 1928 Spirit of St Louis. Only two remain and this one was used in the 1955 movie about Lindbergh's flight. You can sit in a plane cockpit, try a flight simulator and see 'real time' air traffic control. There was a section of a TWA cabin seating area to buckle up in or just rest for a minute! I finished my tour in the 'Clean Room' of Grumman's Lunar Module and was greeted by a costumed young man who explained how the module was built and used. He even handed me some of the Module's 'skin' and insulation. After moving through the exhibits, I checked out the Gift Shop and the Red Planet Caf. I did not have time for an IMAX presentation, but will come back another time for one of these great cinematic experiences. The museum is located on Charles Lindbergh Boulevard in Garden City and can be reached at 516-572-4111 or at www.cradleofaviation.org.
Check out other Long Island Museums in the longisland.com Museum section.