The sun is shining in an azure blue sky dotted with little fluffy clouds. I’m cold. Very cold. I will concede that perhaps 20 years spent in the permanent warmth of Los Angeles has made me soft. There’s a local high school group here, presumably on a field trip, and many are wearing shorts. Maybe if I walk more, I’ll warm up.
Walking is worth it. There’s lots to see. I’m at the Hill Aerospace Museum just north of Salt Lake City, Utah, which houses an immaculate collection of impressive aircraft from supersonic B-1 bombers, to lumbering double-decker C-124 transports to the huge KC-135 tankers. And that’s just the start. I give myself a shake and shiver, and start making my way around.
Tour High Flyers and Fast Fighters at the Hill Aerospace Museum
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Pristine inside and out
The Hill Aerospace Museum is adjacent to Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah. Like many air museums near military bases, the connection is more than just proximity. Many of the museum’s aircraft were stationed or repaired at the base.
It’s not a huge museum, but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality — of both the aircraft themselves and their condition. Every plane here has been exquisitely restored and maintained. There’s WWII-era aircraft without a speck of rust in a part of the world that has what I’d derisively call “weather.”
Before I even enter the museum, a walk around the grounds reveals many of the gems of the collection. A B-29 sits near a B-52, neither of which are commonly found on display. I love huge cargo aircraft, and the C-124 is very much that. Resplendent in its reflective polished metal and orange highlights, this double-decker transport towers over everything.
Inside, the mix of aircraft continues. Not only is there a Brazilian B-17, but a B-24 Liberator, too. While once made in staggeringly huge numbers, B-24s are a pretty rare feature in museums these days. Walk down a narrow passage and you’ll find more modern aircraft. There’s an entire collection of Early Cold War Century Series fighters here, all in a row. Then one of the heavy hitters from Vietnam, an F-111 Aardvark.
Anyone who grew up in the ’80s would recognize the next few aircraft: F-15 and F-16 fighters. I’m not sure which is more jarring — how huge the F-15 is, or how tiny the F-16s are.
The museum is in the process of restoring an F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter, and for now it’s on display missing a few (perhaps still classified) panels.
Perhaps the most impressive aircraft in the collection is the last SR-71 Blackbird ever made. It’s the only SR-71C, which took the rear half of a YF-12 and the front half of a test fuselage. There are some reports the pairing initially didn’t quite work correctly. Even so, it had 556.4 flight hours.
Salt Lake stunners
For its modest size, the Hill Aerospace Museum has an impressive array of aircraft. The B-24, SR-71C, C-124 and fighter aircraft are certainly standouts, but the excellent condition of lesser-known aircraft like the OV-10B Bronco and F-5 are a testament to the skill and care of the museum’s staff.
The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, and perhaps most impressive, it’s free. Definitely recommended.
As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, epic 10,000 mile road trips, and more. Check out Tech Treks for all his tours and adventures.
He wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-size submarines, along with a sequel. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and his YouTube channel.