With a lurch and shudder, we’re on our side and, it appears, blazing toward the ocean in what looks like our last mission.
I’m going to blame my sister for the predicament. She’s at the controls of the flight simulator inside the Wings Over the Rockies Museum Air & Space Museum in Denver, and even though she logged 9.5 hours in flight school as a teenager, we’re going to crash.
Luckily, we bounce right back into the sky after impact, no harm done. She points our “plane” into the stratosphere, tries a few more wild maneuvers, then hands the controls over to me. By the time our 8-minute ride ends, we’ve flown low over Okinawa, successfully completed a barrel roll and attempted a landing on a two-lane road in a World War II-era aircraft.
It costs $12.50 to try the simulator at Wings Over the Rockies, and you get to pick what kind of plane you’d like to fly, and where. We picked a C-45 Expeditor, and purposely flew it hard. (Signs warn participants that “the machine can and will go upside down if ordered to.”) Skilled patrons can even opt for a dogfight, but the staffer running the machine advised us against that, since we were first-timers.
A museum with history
I’d gone to Denver to visit my mom, who moved into an assisted living facility there a week before Christmas. The museum, it turns out, is just a block away from her new place, in a hangar that was once part of the old Lowry Air Force Base. More than a million people trained at the base between 1938 and 1994.
When the base closed, volunteers borrowed some planes and created the Wings Over the Rockies Museum.
“The whole place is full of stories,” said John Barry, a retired two star general and CEO of the museum. “It’s pretty unique.”
A huge B-52 is parked in front of the building, which holds more than 70 aircraft.
Inside, Barry points to a sleek yellow plane hanging from the ceiling behind him. He and Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot who famously landed a disabled plane in the Hudson River in 2009, trained in that very plane, a Schweizer SGS 2-33A glider, he says.
I’m drawn to the recently upgraded Wright Brothers exhibit, where I learn that the first successful powered flight, in December 1903, lasted just 12 seconds and covered a mere 120 feet. An original prop from one of the brothers’ planes is on display, too.
Things have changed a lot since that flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, but the display makes a good starting point for exploring the museum.
From Top Gun to Star Wars at Wings Over the Rockies
I spent a few hours peering inside planes and even tried to hit a few targets with a paper airplane at an interactive exhibit. Visitors can see an F-14A Tomcat like the one Goose and Maverick flew in “Top Gun” and a huge B-1A Lancer. There’s a replica of a Star Wars X-Wing Starfighter flown by Luke Skywalker, made to promote the re-release of the first three movies in the series. And look closely at Sweet Sioux, a Huey helicopter that saw two tours in Vietnam, and you might see one of the 21 bullet holes on her metal skin.
Visitors can also see vintage military uniforms and learn about some of the state’s most famous aviators at the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame.
If You Go
If you go:
Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum is located at 7711 East Academy Boulevard in Denver. Admission is $19.95 for adults, $12.95 for youth, $15.95 for seniors 65 and up, and free for ages 3 and under. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.