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1/2/2010 - Explore Aviation History on Alabama's Aviation Trail

"Isn't it astonishing that all these secrets have been preserved for so many years just so we could discover them!" - Orville Wright 1871-1948

-The Wright Brothers established the nation's first flight school on what is now the site of Maxwell Airforce Base in Montgomery 100 years ago in 1910-

From cotton fields to rocket launches, Alabama's rich aviation tradition includes chapters from the Wright Brothers early years to the past and future of space exploration. Amidst a rich history in Alabama, aviation is boldly in the forefront. The timeline of accomplishments ranges from northern borders of the state to the Mobile coast with land, sea, air and defense. For history buffs, Alabama's aviation and space museums offer experiences all their own that are sure to be enjoyed on every visit. With the Alabama Department of Tourism launch of The Year of Alabama History comes the creation the Aviation Trail. Starting from north to south:

-US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville-

Huntsville - One of the most forgotten chapters in U.S. history is the one that tells the story of how America got into the space business. It was the Army that distinguished itself by being the first in space. The German rocket team led by Dr. Wernher von Braun arrived in Huntsville in 1950 to work for the U.S. Army, thus signifying the beginning of the major role Alabama would play in space exploration. Hear the story and learn more at the Saturn V Center, which serves as the gateway to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and its highly successful Space Camp. It also houses the Saturn V spacecraft that landed man on the moon in 1969. Just over the hill is the NASA-Marshall Space Flight Center. The 38,000-acre military post is home to several of the Army's and NASA's most important programs. The Saturn V Center is located at exit 15 off I-565. 800-63-SPACE. One Tranquility Base. http://www.spacecamp.com/

-Southern Muesum of Flight and Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame in Birmingham-

Birmingham - Military, civilian and home-built aircraft are on display at the Southern Museum of Flight. Exhibits include one of Delta Air Line's first planes - the Huff Daland crop duster, a full-size reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer, a 12-foot model of the World War II aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, and two U.S. Air Force fighter jet cockpit simulators. Memorabilia include a night landing light used by the Wright brothers at their Montgomery flying school, knee-high aviator's boots from World War I, and more than 20 aircraft engines. A 40-foot mural pays homage to the Tuskegee Airmen, including the legendary Chief Alfred Anderson, who trained the pilots, and Daniel "Chappie" James Jr., who became the first black four-star General in the history of the U.S. military. Co-located at the museum is the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame. The museum is located two blocks east of the Birmingham International Airport at exit 129 off I-59. 205-833-8226. 4343 73rd St. N. http://www.southernmuseumofflight.org/

-Air Force Enlisted Heritage Hall, Maxwell-Gunter Annex in Montgomery-

Montgomery - The Wright brothers established the nation's first pilot training school in Montgomery in 1910. They also conducted the first recorded night flight at the site, which is officially known now as Maxwell Air Force Base. Although the school was short-lived, their achievements would forever cement Montgomery's place in America's aviation history. Montgomery became an important link in the growing system of aerial mail service in the 1920s, and by the 1930s, it was the nation's intellectual center for airpower education. Today, Maxwell Air Force Base is the headquarters of Air University, hosted by the 42nd Air Base Wing. Its Gunter Annex is the headquarters for the Air Force Enlisted Heritage Hall. Call ahead for tours. 334-953-8035 (Maxwell Air Force Base Public Affairs Office); 334-416-3202 (Air Force Enlisted Heritage Hall). http://afehri.maxwell.af.mil/

Wright Brothers/Maxwell Field Museum- Opening soon!

-New Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site at Moton Field in Tuskegee-

Tuskegee - One of the most inspiring stories in aviation history was written by the Tuskegee Airmen. The new Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site at Moton Field honors the now-famous group of black pilots who flew with distinction during World War II as the 332nd Fighter Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Prior to the Tuskegee Airmen, no U.S. military pilots had been black because there were many who thought at the time that black men lacked the intelligence, skill, courage and patriotism to be pilots or to serve in the military in any leading roles. A series of moves by the U.S. Congress in 1941 forced the Army Air Corps to form an all-black combat unit. This act became known as the Tuskegee Experience and the men as the Tuskegee Airmen. Trained and mentored by the now legendary Chief Alfred Anderson, the Tuskegee Airmen inspired revolutionary reform in the armed forces, paving the way for full-scale integration of the Armed Services in the United States. The Airmen site is located off I-85 at exit 38. 334-724-0922. 1616 Chappie James Ave. www.nps.gov/tuai

-US Army Aviation Museum located in Fort Rucker- 

Fort Rucker - Look back to the acquisition of the first Wright Model B (ca 1909), the use of "Grasshoppers" as organic air observation for field artillery during World War II, and the Army's first helicopter, the XR-4, at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum. The museum maintains a collection of more than 160 military aircraft, including one of the largest collections of military helicopters in the world. Public galleries represent the Army's involvement in aviation from the beginning days of the Wright brothers and early combat aircraft from World War I, to the highly technological machines flown by Army aviators today. Tours are available with advance notice. The museum is located off U.S. Hwy. 231 at the corner of Novel & Andrews St. 888-276-9286. http://www.armyavnmuseum.org/

-Battleship Memorial Park and Aircraft Pavilion at Mobile-

Mobile - Courage comes alive at Battleship Memorial Park, one of the finest military parks in America. Visitors can not only explore the mighty USS Alabama battleship, winner of nine battle stars in World War II, but can also see the Mach 3 A-12 Blackbird supersecret spy plane, the B-52 Stratofortress Calamity Jane, the Tuskegee Airmen's P-51 D Mustang, plus 22 other aircraft and weaponry from all branches of military. The USS Alabama is just off I-10 at exit 27 or 30. 2703 Battleship Pkwy. (Hwy. 90/98). 251-433-2777. http://www.ussalabama.com/

Alabama's aviation and space museums offer experiences all their own that are sure to be enjoyed on every visit. Take the Alabama Aviation Trail, be inspired and see history come alive. FMI: Alabama Aviation Trail

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