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Kalamazoo Air Zoo

Kalamazoo Air Zoo

By Michael Benolkin

I had an opportunity to visit the Kalamazoo Air Zoo in July 2016 and meet up with Stephen Sutton who is not only a contributor to Cybermodeler Online, he also hosts his own YouTube channel: Scale Model Kit Review. I've visited the Zoo a few times in the past, but when I realized that it had been eight years since the last trip, it was time to fix that. Since that last visit, the main museum has expanded and now houses their Naval Aviation collection that was previously in the east campus as well as added a new spaceflight exhibit. While it still houses a nice collection of aircraft from the early days of flight through recent history, this museum has done an outstanding job of making the visit entertaining for the whole family including rides, interactive exhibits, and interesting displays that examine how far our airborne and spaceborne technologies have evolved compared to predictions in the past.

The aircraft collection is an interesting mix of former warbirds, air racers, retired military aircraft, and more. If you're an aviator, modeler, or both, you'll enjoy researching the backstory for many of these aircraft. Take the A-4B on display - it had been restored to flight in 1988 as a warbird but suffered a landing mishap in 1998 and was repaired to become an exhibit at the Zoo. The beautiful P-47D was one of several restored warbirds before folks realized that the guns are mounted parallel to the ground and not parallel to the wing bottom. The F/A-18A is a very early block Hornet that originally flew with the Blue Angels and arrived at the museum with so much equipment removed that the landing gear doesn't compress very much. The SR-71B is the only production trainer in a museum (various A-models in museums, the only C-model is at Hill AFB, an M-12 is at the Museum of Flight, and a few A-11/12 Oxcart examples are also out there including at NASA/Huntsville).

In the east campus building is a former Polish Air Force MiG-21 on display that appears fresh out of depot maintenance - even the radome is brand new. The plaque identifies the aircraft as a MiG-21PF (Fishbed D) but it is an early MiG-21PFM. The PF had the early forward-hinged canopy that would cover the ejection seat during an emergency egress to protect the pilot from a supersonic wind blast. When too many of the canopies failed to drop away from the seat after ejection (preventing the pilot from leaving the seat and deploying his parachute), the forward hinged canopy was replaced with a standard windscreen and a side-hinged canopy (hence becoming a modified MiG-21PF or MiG-21PFM). What makes this an early PFM is the aircraft still has Fowler flaps used on the MiG-21F/F-13 and MiG-21PF. Sometime during MiG-21PFM production, the flaps were changed over to an engine-blown system (denoted as SPS) which equipped the subsequent MiG-21s through the MiG-21bis. When you see this beauty at the museum, she has fresh placards and stencils (in Polish) and a few other interesting details you'll want to find for yourself.

Unlike many museums around the country, nearly all of the Zoo's collection is indoors. That is significant as the aircraft are protected from the elements and the cockpits are not covered over. Outdoors, they still have a B-57 (being repainted), F-84F, T-33, UH-1, and Learjet on display along with an S-3 Viking that arrived during my last visit which still hasn't been brought into the collection for some reason. You can see that the collection is kept clean and great condition with many of the aircraft viewable from nearly all sides. Below is a gallery of many of their exhibits though these are by no means complete, but will give you an idea of what you'll be seeing on your next visit. Enjoy!

Click on an image to see a larger view.

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