The Kalamazoo Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan is one of the world’s premier air museums, with a magnificent collection of fully-restored vintage military aircraft. Like most aviation museums across the world, they had to temporarily close their doors due to the pandemic, but they have come up with a definitive plan to open their doors once more, adapting their facility to be mindful of the ongoing situation. The museum recently re-opened some of their exhibits to the general public, albeit with strict guidelines for how visitors should take part. The following press release outlines these guidelines as well as what will be available for people to take part in. There are also many new virtual opportunities for families to join in the fun too!
The Air Zoo – Phased Re-Entry
Welcoming Guests, Both In-Person and Virtually
Following an announcement made mid-June, the Air Zoo reopened its doors to its Members on Monday, June 29th, kicking off a two-week, members-only appreciation period. General admission to the public resumed on Monday, July 13th at 9am. The Air Zoo Aerospace and Science Center staff and volunteers are excited to be putting months of preparation and planning, outlined in a 32-page document, referred to as the “Air Zoo Re-Entry Plan,” into action.
“This feels a little like what capsule re-entry from a space mission might” states Air Zoo President and CEO, Troy Thrash. “We spent countless hours navigating the turbulence created by COVID-19, exploring and developing virtual opportunities to engage with the community in a new way while analyzing, planning, researching and executing new policies, procedures and experiences to safely welcome back our community when the time, and trajectory, was right. It looks as though that time is now – and we are ready and excited to see our friends and neighbors back at the Air Zoo!”
The Air Zoo’s indoor amusement park rides, flight simulators, Missions Theater and several of the hands-on Flexhibits and KEVA stations are temporarily inaccessible for guest safety. The Air Zoo plans to reintroduce these experiences when safety allows. In the meantime, the museum is deploying new exhibitions and enhancements to current exhibits throughout the remainder of the year.
The overall Air Zoo Experience will look a bit different to visitors, as a result of the requirements and recommendations handed down by the CDC, as well as state and local governments. While both buildings will be open for guests, there are new hours, policies and procedures everyone is encouraged to review prior to visiting.
- New Hours: The Air Zoo’s new hours are Monday-Saturday 9am-12:30pm and 1:30-5pm, and Sunday 1:30-5pm, to allow for deep cleaning and breaks for staff and volunteers.
- Mondays are reserved for our region’s vulnerable populations, as outlined by the CDC.
- Online ticketing is recommended, as capacity is limited for all timeslots, and available at airzoo.org.
- Masks must be worn by all persons age 2 and up, at all times, while in the buildings.
- Everyone who enters will have their temperature scanned, and anyone with a sustained temperature of 100.4 or higher will be asked to return another day.
- Rides, flight simulators, the Missions Theater, and most hands-on activities will be temporarily inaccessible until state restrictions are lifted and the Air Zoo feels it is safe to reincorporate these activities.
- The Kitty Hawk Café will be closed through the end of July (re-opening date TBA). Water and snacks are available through the Fly Buy Gift Shop.
Guests should be aware that the Air Zoo has gone to great lengths to implement safety measures internally as well; the safety of the Air Zoo staff, volunteers and guests is of the highest priority – always. All employees, volunteers and service staff are required to wear masks at all times while in shared areas of the building, and are subject to daily temperature and health screenings as well as check-in requirements for contact tracing purposes. Guests will find that queue lines, protective plexiglass barriers, new signage and other social distancing measures have been put into place, as well as increased cleaning and disinfecting of high-traffic areas and touchable interactives. Guests are asked to pre-purchase admission online and to consider using credit cards on-site to reduce exposure. The Air Zoo also asks that anyone feeling under the weather, or whom has an unwell family member, please not visit. The Air Zoo’s Guest Experience team is happy to assist in moving tickets to another day or issuing a full refund.
The Air Zoo’s Flight Discovery Center, located at 3101 E Milham. Dr., will open to members, and the general public, on the same dates and times as the Flight Innovation Center. Air Zoo staff and volunteers are excited to be back at work in the Air Zoo’s nationally renowned restoration program, where they are busy restoring two WWII combat aircraft, rescued from the bottom of Lake Michigan, back to their former glory: Douglas SBD-2P Dauntless Bu.02173 and Grumman FM-2 Wildcat Bu.57039.
Had the pandemic not interrupted progress, original plans involved moving the finished SBD-2P Dauntless dive bomber to Pearl Harbor in time for a commemorative 75th V-J Day anniversary celebration. However, events and timelines have obviously shifted so the completion and departure of the SBD will be determined and announced at a later date.
Visitors to the center will still have the opportunity to watch and interact with the restoration team at work as they paint and rebuild the two aircraft. Staff and volunteers were excited to get back and resume the painting of aircraft parts, which started just prior to shutdown in March. With the addition of their new state-of-the-art paint booth, guests will be able to see the team in action as they prime, paint and assemble the iconic dive bomber and the FM-2 Wildcat.
Virtual Summer Camps
The Air Zoo is creating a large impact in new and inventive ways this year. The museum’s highly-skilled team of educators is celebrating a successful first week of Virtual Summer Camps and looking forwards to the next nine weeks! In May, the Air Zoo encountered a major challenge, but swiftly revamped its popular summer camp curriculum into online programming that could be safe, effective and enjoyable for children, while also being affordable and easy-to-manage for parents. Indeed, more than 200 campers have registered so far for the Air Zoo’s new Virtual Summer Camps. Educators have been resetting curriculum, enhancing activities and creating outstanding experiences as they build lesson plans and camp kits for parents to pick up at the Air Zoo or have shipped directly to their homes. Children from all over, including some from California, Mexico, Pennsylvania and Maryland, are registered for Air Zoo camps this summer. Going virtual with educational programming has allowed Air Zoo educators to have an even larger impact than they had ever imagined.
“Going virtual for camps and library programs this summer has really helped us to build a strong foundation to expand our scholastic programs, specialized outreach initiatives and field trips, which may have to be conducted virtually this year” states Air Zoo Education Manager, Kathy Larsen. “We would love to become a valuable STEAM education resource for educators, throughout the world as they work to navigate the 2020-2021 school year and the challenges that COVID has posed.”
Camps are still available for kids K-12 and cost between $20-$65 each depending upon the duration and camp materials required. Camp kits are also available for shipping to campers for a small additional fee. Registration closes 14 days prior to the camp start date, so interested families are urged to sign up early.
Launchpad to Learning
The Air Zoo was quick to launch its new online video center, Launchpad to Learning, on March 19th as they, along with thousands of other businesses, had to close their doors to the public. Since its launch, the Air Zoo has had more than 40,000 visitors to its webpage, which now contains 55 videos and counting. Content ranges from science experiments and art projects to artifact briefs, story-time and short museum tours. Guests will also find educational worksheets, coloring pages and other activities for families. Content is available HERE, but is also shared across the Air Zoo’s social media sites: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.
Alien Worlds and Androids
While some of the typical experiences may feel limited – the Air Zoo is out-of-this-world excited to announce that their new permanent exhibit – Alien Worlds and Androids – is now open to the public! Some may remember this popular exhibit, spanning almost 5,000 feet, on temporary display in the summer of 2017.
Guests will join scientists in the search for alien life in, and beyond, our solar system as they explore nine different themed environments that both immerse you in outer space discoveries and explore advances in technology that have led to increased speculation about the possibility of life beyond planet Earth. Hands-on (limited) experiments allow guests to manipulate variables of a particular environment to see how they affect the possibility for life. Guests will also have the opportunity to journey to Mars alongside NASA’s Rover robots, get up close with the robots made famous in movies such as Terminator, Alien and STAR WARS, and learn about the everyday use of real androids right here on Earth.
Women in Air & Space
To shatter prior sensibilities that might find a women’s exhibit relegated to a single area on the museum floor, the Air Zoo is designing its Women in Air & Space exhibit to be integrated throughout the campus. After all, the roles women have played in aviation and space flight are woven throughout history. Co-founded by a Woman Aviation Service Pilot (WASP) and in an effort to further explore the impact women have had upon space and aviation history, the Air Zoo plans to illuminate the diverse and impactful contributions that women have made throughout both facilities. Amelia: Adventurous Aviatrix, will pave the way as it opens this summer.
Amelia: Adventurous Aviatrix is an all new exhibit that explores the adventures and legacy of Amelia Earhart. Planned for display in the Flight Innovation Center’s Golden Age of Flight gallery, the exhibit tells the story of a brave, bold woman who broke through barriers to make history in the sky. Guests will learn how Amelia went from a playful child born in Atchison, Kansas, in 1897 to an aviation and women’s empowerment icon and contributor.
The exhibit highlights such stories as Amelia’s healthcare passion, which found her nursing wounded World War I pilots, and how she honored her early feminist values by deliberately choosing a female flight instructor. Guests will get to know the man behind Amelia’s powerful publicity machine and count the pilot’s numerous achievements, such as becoming the first woman (and second person) to pilot an aircraft across the Atlantic and setting women’s world altitude, speed, and endurance records. They will learn about Amelia’s ultimate dream to fly around the world, meet flight navigator, Fred Noonan, who joined her on that mission, and consider the unsolved mystery that followed. A recreated historic scene—which depicts Amelia giving flying tips pint-size pilots—provides the centerpiece to this exhibit in the round.
Memories & Milestones: the Air Zoo Story
This exhibit has been redesigned and is being installed at the Air Zoo’s Flight Discovery Center, rightfully, where it all began. Guests can explore the story of co-founders Sue and Pete Parish, and learn about the first objects that made up the Air Zoo collection. Peer into a scale model of the Flight Discovery Center and learn about the museum’s expansions. Recall the thrill of the Air Zoo’s High on Kalamazoo air shows, including the iconic cat flights, learn about the early days of their acclaimed Restoration Center and see how the Air Zoo first put the space into aerospace.
In 2019, the Air Zoo was notified that they would be the proud recipient of one of the first F-117 Nighthawks released for public display at a non-government institution. The highly decorated Shaba (817) is scheduled to arrive in Kalamazoo in December of 2020! The Air Zoo is expected to be the first non-governmental facility in the country – and the only museum in the state of Michigan – to display an F-117. The Air Zoo is currently running a fundraising initiative called Get Shaba to help support the safe transport and restoration needed to get this magnificent aircraft out on the exhibit floor for all to enjoy. Be sure to click on the link to help the museum with this important project!