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 will resume 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 they are deemed safe to do so. In the meantime, new exhibitions and enhancements to current exhibits are being deployed throughout the remainder of the year.
NEW PROCEDURES & POLICIES
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 asks that anyone who is feeling under the weather, or has a family member that is ill, not visit. The Air Zoo’s Guest Experience team is happy to assist in moving tickets to another day or issuing a full refund.
RESTORATION AND THE FLIGHT DISCOVERY CENTER
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 planes that were rescued from the bottom of Lake Michigan to their former glory: an SBD-2P Dauntless dive bomber and an FM2 Wildcat.
Original plans, this summer, were to return the finished SBD-2P Dauntless dive bomber to Pearl Harbor in time for a commemorative 75th V-J Day anniversary celebration. Events and timelines have now shifted as a result of the pandemic and 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 FM-2 Wildcat.
Virtual Summer Camps
Big impacts are happening in new and inventive ways this year at the Air Zoo. Their highly skilled team of educators are celebrating a successful first week of Virtual Summer Camps and looking forward to the next nine weeks! In May the Air Zoo was met with a challenge and swiftly revamped its popular summer camp curriculum into programming that could be safe, impactful and enjoyable for children while affordable and easy-to-manage for parents, online. More than 200 campers have been registered to date 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 home. Children from all over, including some from California, Mexico, Pennsylvania and Maryland, are registered for Air Zoo camps this summer. Going virtual with education 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-12th grade and cost between $20-$65 each depending on duration and camp materials. Camp kits can also be shipped to campers for a small additional fee. Camp registration closes 14 days prior to camp 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 seen more than 40,000 visitors to the 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 at airzoo.org/launchpad-to-
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 immerse you in outer space discoveries and that explore the advances in technology that have led to increased speculation on the possibility of life beyond planet Earth. Hands-on (limited) experiments allow guests to manipulate variables of a particular environment to see how it affects the possibility for life and will 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 touch that women have had on aviation and space flight is woven throughout history. Co-founded by a Woman Aviation Service Pilot (WASP) and in an effort to further explore womens’ impacts on space and aviation history, the Air Zoo plans to illuminate the diverse and impactful contributions of women 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. Those wanting more information can find it at airzoo.org/get-shaba.
About the Air Zoo
Located at 6151 Portage Rd., Portage, MI 49002, the Air Zoo is a Smithsonian-affiliated aerospace & science experience with over 100 rare air & space craft, inspiring interactive exhibits, indoor amusement park rides, full-motion flight simulators, hands-on science-based education programs, and more. The Air Zoo is a not-for-profit organization and is open 360+ days per year. For hours, tickets and info, visit airzoo.org.