Exploring the Carolinas Aviation Museum
Hey did you know that the biggest star of this summer’s hit movie “Sully” lives in Charlotte? No, not Tom Hanks. Not Aaron Eckhardt either. And no, not director Clint Eastwood. Think BIG in terms of size, not star power or Academy Award winners.
I know what you’re thinking – the last you saw that plane it was slowly sinking into the Hudson River, right? How in the world did it get to North Carolina? And why did it end up in Charlotte?
These are some of the fascinating questions and answers found at the Carolinas Aviation Museum, located about fifteen minutes by car from Uptown Charlotte.
Trivia: the plane was moved – slowly – by truck from New Jersey to North Carolina.
If you haven’t seen the film (which is now on DVD and Blu-Ray by the way), “Sully” is the story of Flight 1549, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, and the crew and passengers aboard the plane that went down in the Hudson River in January 2009.
You likely remember the story – a USAir flight took off from La Guardia airport in New York City headed to Charlotte, minutes into the flight the plane flew through a flock of birds as it headed north out of Queens, birds were sucked through the engines, causing both sides to fail, and the flight captain somehow landed the plane in the Hudson River, where all 155 souls on board were rescued from the frigid waters.
And today, the Airbus 320 previously known as US Airways Flight 1549 is parked inside the Carolinas Aviation Museum – just a stone’s throw from its original destination, Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
Travel hint: if you have a layover at CLT, the nation’s 8th busiest airport, you can easily get to the museum by cab within ten minutes.
My family and I visited the museum a few months before “Sully” hit the theaters – I admit, mainly to see the plane – and discovered a great local aviation gem with much more than Flight 1549 to take in.
(Keep in mind, the museum lacks the size and grandeur of the National Air and Space Museum or the Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport in Virginia, so manage expectations accordingly.)
The museum consists of a combined visitors center/gift store, numerous exhibits including Flight 1549 inside a large airport hangar, and several more aviation exhibits outside the hangar. The displays inside the visitors center include highlights of North Carolina aviation history, including several about Kitty Hawk, site of the Wright Brothers’ famous 1903 flight. But we were excited and anxious to see the famous airplane that was involved in the Miracle on the Hudson on January 15, 2009.
We entered the hangar exhibit area and boom! Flight 1549 is the immediate focal point. We’ve been on many airplanes over the years, but there isn’t a lot of opportunity (for good reasons) to stand so close to a huge plane to the point you can actually see the rivets and scratches on the paint.
Most of the visible damage is on the nose and the rear of the plane. If you recall from the movie (and if not, there are interpretive exhibits at the museum), Captain Sullenberger had to land the plane on the water within extremely tight parameters to make sure that the nose didn’t hit first (which would cause the plane to flip end over end) and to make sure the angle would permit the rear to touch the water first.
In a corner of the hangar the museum features a video presentation about the flight explaining in more detail exactly how miraculous it was indeed that Flight 1549 landed without fatalities. Keep in mind that this was not the type of landing that pilots are trained for – a water landing in an urban area with two engines gone in under three minutes!
Flight 1549 is clearly the star of the show at the Carolinas Aviation Museum.
We spent more than half our time with the featured exhibit – it takes a long time to walk around an A-320, see the damage and read the details provided by the museum. But for true aviation buffs, the museum also has on display a compilation of various aircraft, both civilian and military.
The museum is more on the educational side than on the entertainment side. For example, there aren’t a lot of interactive displays that might engage young children. But my pre-teen and teenager (even with only a passing interest in aviation) enjoyed the visit and came away both educated and entertained.
January 15, 2009 was one of those days when America needed, and received, a miracle.
At the end, our visit to the Carolinas Aviation Museum was well worth the time and money, even if all we had done was see Flight 1549. Every once in a while, we need good news to perk us up, keep us going, and restore our faith in humanity and the universe.
If you plan a visit, several details to keep in mind:
- The museum is located very near Charlotte Douglas International Airport, at 4672 First Flight Drive, Charlotte, NC 28208.
- It’s open Monday – Friday from 10 am to 4 pm, Saturdays from 10 to 5 pm, and Sundays from 1-5 pm.
- Adult admission is $12 and student admission is $8. Children 5 and under are free.
- The museum is closed on major U.S. holidays.
- Plan on 2 hours or so to see the entire museum, but younger kids may get a little antsy after an hour or so due to lack of interactive exhibits.
- If you are visiting in the summer, keep in mind that the museum is not air-conditioned.