Airplanes defy the impossible; maybe that’s why aeronautics—the science of flight—mesmerizes people of all ages. When I took my then three-year-old son to Denver’s Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum for the first time in 2015, he gleefully scurried around Hangar No. 1 of the former Lowry Air Force Base, ogling space vehicles and iconic aircraft. It was a refreshing experience for a toddler-weary mom used to saying, “slow down” and “don’t touch.” Three years later, my now six-year-old has a new realm of flight to explore at the Wings Over the Rockies Exploration of Flight museum.
Located at Centennial Airport—the nation’s second-busiest general aviation airport—Exploration of Flight is a significant departure from the Air & Space Museum. “Our facility in Lowry focuses on aerospace heritage, whereas Exploration of Flight is all about the future,” explains marketing director Ben Theune.
Wings Over the Rockies plans to build the 15-acre Exploration of Flight campus in phases. The first phase, which was completed this summer, is the 19,000-square-foot Boeing Blue Sky Aviation Gallery, a sleek, minimalist facility which opens up to one of Centennial Airport’s landing strips.
Given the gallery’s rare venue, the best thing to do when you arrive is visit the viewing lounge, where families can watch a few of Centennial Airport’s 340,000 annual takeoffs and landings while listening to real chatter from the tower. Later, during a 30-minute, behind-the-scenes airport tour, learn about the terminology you heard, as well as other aviation tidbits, like what all those runway lights actually mean.
Blue Sky Aviation Gallery has four exhibit bays, each with interactive displays on topics ranging from aerodynamics to weather. While these exhibits captivate adult audiences, other attractions are more likely to please children.
“We offer incredible opportunities to experience flight firsthand,” says Theune, pointing to pilot-quality Redbird flight simulators. Three devices (one for ages eight and up, and two more for ages 13 and up) recreate the experience of flight, giving participants a very realistic feel for the environment inside a cockpit.
The only thing more realistic than a Redbird flight simulator is actual flight. Wings Over the Rockies partners with Aspen Flying Club to deliver two-hour “Discovery Flight” experiences. For $179, visitors of all ages and experience levels jump into the pilot’s seat.
“You can choose where to fly, whether it be over downtown Denver, along the Front Range, or out into the eastern planes,” says Theune.
Whether in the air or on the ground, it’s exciting to see where an exploration of flight may take your child’s imagination.
- Check it Out:
- 13005 Wings Way, Englewood
- Need to Know:
- Open Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
- $6 for youth, $12 for adults, with discounted rates for members, seniors, and active military and veterans. Additional fee for tours and simulator and flight experiences.
- Insider Secret:
- One of the best times to visit Exploration of Flight is during a “weekend showcase.” From September 7 to 10, the Learn to Fly Showcase will teach guests how to get involved with flight, through training demonstrations, presentations from flight instructors, and more.