This latest blog entry on my favorite aerospace museums covers the other end of the spectrum from the professional, high-tech aerospace museums I’ve written about before. This little gem of a museum, called the Golden Age Air Museum, is located in the ridge-lined countryside of central Pennsylvania. Golden Age is only open during the summer months, and is what is known as a “flying” museum. This means that most of the planes in their collection are kept in airworthy condition, and brought out at various times throughout the season for aerial demonstrations. In this case, “Golden Age” generally refers to the early years of flying in the U.S., from roughly 1917 to the start of World War II. Some of the aircraft at the museum include biplane classics such as a 1930 Great Lakes, a 1926 Winstead Special and a 1929 Waco GXE that is used to give rides above the green, rolling farmland. There are also some early monoplane light aircraft at the museum that are routinely flown. These include a 1932 Taylor E-2 Cub and a 1936 Aeronca C-3 Master.
The entire museum is located on Grimes Airfield, which consists of a single, smooth grass runway, and three hangars built to look like those used to shelter planes during the 20’s and 30’s. Adding to the nostalgic look of that era are a restored farmhouse that has a small office and some inside displays, a couple of vintage automobiles and a replica light beacon tower like those used to guide airmail pilots to their destinations before the use of electronics for air navigation. One of the hangars is used for restoration work, and you can see the latest aircraft being diligently restored to flying condition. The last time I was there, they were working on a 1917 Curtis JN4D Jenny biplane. Most of the airframe had been restored, but the fabric had not yet been installed, so you could see the beautifully crafted wood that makes up most of the Jenny’s main structure.
The museum holds special events during the season, including several fly-ins where you can pitch your tent next to your airplane and enjoy evening cookouts and entertainment. If you can only attend one special event, I would recommend the museum’s Flying Circus airshow, usually held in August. It is a recreation of a 1920’s airshow, including aerobatics, barnstorming skills, and a little Keystone cops comedy thrown in, all performed by museum volunteers dressed in vintage Roaring 20’s garb.
As I pilot, I really enjoyed flying my Citabria 7ECA to the Golden Age Museum during late summer. At that time of the season, the corn lining both sides of the runway is tall enough to block your view of the rest of the complex until you taxi to an opening near the end of the runway. As you emerge from the “corn canyon” you feel like you have flown back in time as you approach the retro hangars with biplanes neatly arranged outside. The nearby forested ridge of the blue mountains that towers over the airfield probably looks the same as it did more than 80 years ago, when most of these planes were still in the dawn of their flying careers.
If you are not a pilot, Golden Age Air Museum can easily be reached by car. It is located near Bethel, PA, just off I-78, the major interstate highway between Harrisburg and Allentown, PA. The entry fee is only five bucks for adults and three bucks for kids, a real bargain for a fun trip back into aviation history.