Florida’s “Official Aviation Museum and Education Center”, the Aerospace Discovery at Florida Air Museum is located in the South west corner of the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport near Lakeland off I–4.
It contains an interesting and eclectic collection of aircraft and aviation related artefacts. The relatively small museum includes around 50 “one-of-a-kind” designs such as experimental homebuilts and prototypes, classics, racers, ultra-lights, aerobatic and vintage aircraft from all eras. Whilst the collection concentrates on general aviation it also contains some rare military jets and warbirds.
The aircraft range in size from the diminutive Bede BD–5B Micro to a FedEx Boeing 727 tri-engined jet freighter.
The museum is open each day except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, Easter Sunday and Mondays in June through August. Note that during the annual week long Sun ’n Fun International Fly-In, admission to the museum is free but only if you purchase a ticket to Sun ’n Fun itself.
Unlike most aircraft museums in Florida, the Aerospace Discovery at Florida Air Museum concentrates on general aviation, not military
There are three museum buildings. The main building houses most of the smaller aircraft and a number of other exhibits including:
- the official Howard Hughes Aviation Collection. A number of artefacts from the extensive archive are on display (the displays are rotated on a regular basis) including personal scrapbooks, wind tunnel models including a 14 foot model of the Spruce Goose, racing trophies and flying gear from some of the Hollywood movies
- the Florida Aerospace Timeline which highlights the part that Florida played in the history of aviation
- the Florida Aviation Hall of Fame, paying tribute to local Florida aviators
- as well as interactive learning experiences for the whole family through hands-on displays and flight simulators
- and a gift shop
There is also a hangar annex holding some of the larger aircraft and the Innovations in Propulsion exhibit which is a collection of engines demonstrating the advances in engine design from the earliest aircraft like the Anzani engine from a 1909 Bleriot, right up to a Mach 5 hypersonic ram jet engine from the present day.
The third building is the Buehler Restoration Center. As its name suggests, it is used for restoration and workshop classes. It opened in 2006.
Some of the aircraft are kept outside including the Boeing 727 (which you can go inside), one of only four hydro ski-equipped Convair YF2Y–1 Sea Dart prototypes and an ultra rare prototype Lockheed XFV–1 Vertical Riser.
Only two XFVs were ever built and the one at Lakeland is the only one that actually flew though it never achieved a vertical take off or landing.
History of the Florida Air Museum
The museum first opened in 1986 as the Sun ’n Fun Air Museum. Around this time it acquired the complete Howard Hughes archive.
In the early 1990s it was renamed as the International Sport Aviation Museum. It 2002 it became the Florida Air Museum and then in 2014, Aerospace Discovery at Florida Air Museum emphasising the educational elements of the museum.