This Isn’t the Air Zoo of Your Childhood
When my husband commuted to Kalamazoo for work recently, the kids and I tagged along so we could spend the day at the Air Zoo.
We had first visited back in the fall thanks to the Cultural Membership Exchange through GRCM, and ever since my five year old had been asking to go back.
My husband on the other hand was skeptical. Could we (meaning a five year old and one-and-a-half year old) really spend an entire day being entertained looking at old airplanes? If that was simply all the Air Zoo had to offer, his skepticism would be well warranted, however, the Air Zoo is so much more than just a collection of old aircraft.
Designated as a Smithsonian Affiliate, the Air Zoo has expanded vastly since its days of being the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum and now proudly describes itself as an Aerospace & Science Experience.
Exhibits and attractions cater to all age levels while encompassing aviation history, space exploration, physics and engineering, as well as other science-based visiting exhibits like the current Wild Weather exhibit. Plus, the indoor mini-theme park with flight based rides and simulators are always a hit, too.
Magic at the Main Campus
The main campus of the Air Zoo is HUGE. It can be a little overwhelming when you first enter the main exhibit hall– photographs barely do justice to the grandeur of the size and scale. The walls are covered in extraordinary murals that add scope to the storytelling of how the hall is laid out.
To the left you’ll find a collection of historic aircraft as well as rides like the Century of Flight Ferris Wheel, Flying Circus Biplane Ride, the Montgolfier Balloon Race, and Paratrooper Jump.
Also tucked in the corner is the Kid’s Zone. This smaller area has some hand-on toys for younger visitors like Imagination Playground building blocks, smaller kiddie rides, and interactives. It is also a quieter space away from the loud hydraulic sounds of the amusement rides.
All along the central area of the hall you will find aircraft with more of a military association as well as several Flexhibits that give kids a hands-on experience with types of energy. The Air Rockets and Drag Race were two of our favorites.
Visiting this summer now until September 5, 2018 is the Wild Weather exhibit which is also interspersed throughout the central area of the main hall. Exploring the extreme weather of tornadoes, hurricanes, heat waves, blizzards and more, this highly interactive exhibit will bring out the meteorologist in everyone.
To the far right of the main hall are modern aircraft including a SR-71B (the fastest type of plane ever built) and several simulators to give the feel of flight.
The Corsair Flight Simulation is very popular as it takes you on a journey over southwest Michigan and has no height restrictions. There are also several HD or 3D HD Flight Simulators in which you can take control of a fighter jet flight stick and attempt all sorts of stunts and tricks. Riders however must be a minimum of 48” tall (no lap riding or having an accompanying adult can bypass this).
To the rear of the main hall you find a hall that connects to the East Wing of the Main Campus and houses more fun exhibits. We preferred taking the hall to the left and starting with the Space: Dare to Dream exhibit before looping through the other exhibits.
On the upper level of the Main Campus Building you will find the Kitty Hawk Cafe serving cafeteria style food, as well as a selection of snacks and beverages. There is also a dining area on the mezzanine overlooking the main exhibit hall where guests are welcome to dine on food brought from home or from the cafe.
Exploring the East Campus
You could also take your food outdoors and dine al fresco in the picnic pavilion along the walking path to the East Campus building. (If weather is inclement, you are also able to hop into your vehicle and drive the short distance to the East Campus via Milham Ave.)
A third option, which is also our favorite one for a snack break, is to eat in the enclosed patio of the East Campus building – it’s practically on the runway of the Kalamazoo-Battle Creek Airport. It’s the perfect spot to watch for aircraft taking off and landing, because the Air Zoo welcomes Fly-Ins! Pilots can request to the AZO air traffic control tower to land and taxi over to the East Campus to park their aircraft there.
This location also allows for a special summertime adventure: Rides in Biplanes. In partnership with Waldo Wright’s Flying Service, those daring enough can charter flights in an open cockpit aircraft. Flights average 15-18 minutes and can include such maneuvers as lazy-eights, steep and shallow 360 degree turns, and maybe even a few “whoopty-dos.” There are additional fees to fly along with Waldo.
The East Campus building was where the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum got its start and as well as housing even more aircraft, it is also home to the restoration area where new life is given to otherwise scrapped planes. You may be able to watch as volunteers or even students from the West Michigan Aviation Academy work on various projects.
This building is also where you will find several aircraft that you can climb into and get feel for what it is like to be in the cockpit of a plane, jet, or helicopter.
As you can imagine all of this was more than plenty than to keep ourselves occupied for the day and made for a quiet car ride home as both kids quickly fell asleep after all their exploits.
We highly recommend making a wonderful day full of high flyin’ fun with this special West Michigan destination.
Details About the Air Zoo
Air Zoo: Aerospace & Science Experience is located at 6151 Portage Road, Portage, MI 49002.
Hours of Operation:
Main Campus: Monday – Saturday, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM; Sunday, N12:00 PM – 5:00 PM
East Campus: Monday – Thursday, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM; Friday – Saturday, 11:00 AM. – 5:00 PM; Sunday: 12:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Adults (19-59) $15.50; seniors (60+), $12.50; children (5-18) $14.50; children (4 and under) are FREE. Discounts are available for Military/Veteran and Police & Fire at a rate of $7.75.
A Family Membership (two adults and all household children) for one year is $100.00, and would be a great option if you plan on visiting more than a single time over the course of a year.
Strollers and wheelchairs are more than welcome, and you can even rent two seat pull wagons for $5.00 at the gift shop to tow any littles or picnic supplies.