1940 AIR TERMINAL MUSEUM
1940 Air Terminal Museum located adjacent to, Hobby Airport, is the original Houston Municipal Airport. It is a magnificent location to plane watch because you can safely walk onto the tarmac. The art deco building was a Works Project Administration (WPA) project when Houston was an up and coming city mostly due to the oil and gas business. In 1956, the last year the Terminal operated, it served over nine hundred thousand travelers. The building was left to decay in the 1960’s, however the tower remained active until the 1970’s to service Hobby Airport. A group of aviation and history enthusiasts gathered to keep and renovate the site and it reopened to the public in 2003. The Terminal was designed by Joseph Finger, who also designed Houston’s City Hall. The original marble floors, art deco style railings and the art deco chandler still hang in the Air Terminal.
Today, there is one paid staff member and many volunteers at the Terminal. One volunteer worked on the Lunar Lander for NASA and created a display about the Space Program.
My two guides for my visit, Jack and Russell are enthusiastic volunteers and related personal stories of the vintage building.
The main mission of the Air Terminal is “keeping the space alive,” Amy Rogers, the Executive Director told me. The Terminal hosts a number of functions throughout the year, from Kids camps, Women in Aviation, Plane Spotting, Wings on Wheels, as well as many private events, which include weddings. While it is the goal of the Air Terminal to preserve its history, they also want to bring in new visitors and are focused on collaborations with other groups than just aviation.
Plane Spotting (akin to bird watching for aircraft) is big at that Air Terminal. During the last Super Bowl held in Houston, seventy-five European men came to the Terminal to take pictures of the airplanes that were flown into Hobby Airport.
The Terminal served international flights to Mexico and South America via Braniff Airlines and Pam Am Airlines. Trans Texas Airways initially flew only throughout the State of Texas but would merge with Continental Airlines to begin service to the Mexico and South American routes.
James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor made a stop at the Terminal when they were filming Giant. The Elizabeth Taylor bathroom hasn’t changed much since she was there. Humphrey Bogart also passed through the terminal on his travels.
Throughout the Terminal you will find artifacts on the aircraft and personnel that worked in the Terminal. Individuals donate model aircraft to the museum continuously and many are on display. Both Braniff and Trans Texas Airways aviation history is well defined here.
An interesting artifact is a letter to one of the Trans Texas stewardesses regarding her weight. Back then the airlines had strict weight restrictions for stewardesses. The 60’s uniforms were colorful as well.
Paul Barnhart’s Lockheed Lodestar has a place of honor outside the Terminal on the tarmac. Barnhart was a fifth generation Texan, an Eagle Scout, engineer, oil tycoon and philanthropist. He purchased the plane in 1968 and it was donated to the Terminal in 2002.
The Terminal’s Hanger dates to 1928, and was originally used as an air mail hanger. Howard Hughes was a big influence on the Houston aviation and occupied the hanger next door.
Inside you will find several pieces of vintage navigational equipment that were used in the tower as well as two King Air Flight Simulators. There are several aircraft on display, including the Cessna that the Terminal will raffle off this year for its yearly fundraising event. As you walk outside the hanger you will see many aircraft getting ready for takeoff on the runway. The Southwest jets were pretty close as they prepared for takeoff.
If you want to have an up close look at aircraft, this is the place to do it. The 1940 Air Terminal holds more than the aviation history of Houston and an indelible spot in many locals’ memories.
LONE STAR FLIGHT MUSEUM
Lone Star Flight Museum has recently relocated from Galveston to Ellington Air Field in Houston. The massive facility houses vintage aircraft that fly. With some 24 aircraft on display, you can view vintage aircraft including the Stearman; War birds including the B-17 and B-25 to the passenger plane DC-3 in the enormous easily accessible hangers.
A special exhibition is Wood and Canvas of World War1 Aviation Art of Jim Dietz which pays tribute to aviations’ coming of age in World War 1. These reproductions of Dietz artwork commemorate the combat aviators that sowed the seed of combat aviation today.
AVIATION HERITAGE GALLERY
Walk through Texas Aviation Heritage Gallery, a chronological history of aviation in Texas. With its interactive screens and displays, here you can learn the history of Texas aviation endeavors and the men and women who made it happen.
In the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame you can pay homage to Texans that were and are the movers and shakers of the aviation world. Some may surprise you.
Be sure to add The Lone Star Flight Museum to your list to visit. Take a ride in a vintage Stearman or B-17 bomber. You will surely not be disappointed.
JOHNSON SPACE CENTER
Johnson Space Center is the integral part of NASA. Houston is where the astronauts do most of their training and where the space flights are controlled through Mission Control.
The tram tour is an open tram ride through the Johnson Space Center. In just under two hours you will visit Mission Control, the Space Vehicle Mock Up Center where men and machines are being prepared for future missions. You will also visit a Saturn 5 rocket that was flight ready back in the 1970’s. The massive rocket lies on its side in a hanger created for it. You can get up close to the colossus. The Apollo Space Program is recounted here in displays of the crews and their flight missions.
SPACE VEHCLE MOCK UP CENTER
Here you will view what’s next for the space program. From the new space station designs to the robots that will assist the astronauts, to the vehicles they will use to explore, and the space craft that will make the voyage, this massive facility is at the forefront of new technology.
THE SPACE SHUTTLE
Just outside the Space Center, you can walk through the Space Shuttle and the 747 that carried her. You will discover just how small the shuttle was and the engineering it took to get it off the ground.
The next great mission of NASA will be a mission to Mars. How will we get there? What will take us there? How will we survive? These are some of the questions they seek to answer at Johnson.
ASTRONAUNT GALLERY AND EXHIBITS
The Astronaut Gallery pays tribute to all the crews that have flown in space. Next to the Gallery you will a number of spacesuits worn by astronauts from the Apollo program through and the Space Shuttle. Also on display are many spacesuits that will be used on the journey to Mars.
You may also want to enjoy one of the several IMAX films that are featured during the day. In the central area do the Center you can see how NASA will get to Mars and live there and participate in numerous demonstrations about Mars. Inside another gallery, you can touch a moon rock and you will see space suits and artifacts from various missions.
There is plenty to keep the children entertained at Johnson from flight simulators to a play area. Many adults can relive their memories of the space program and be just as engrossed as the kids in the anticipated Mars journey. One my visit, I even came across some vintage TV memorabilia in the Food Court.