Just a few miles east of downtown Denver, Colorado, sits the spectacular Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum. Located on the former Lowry Air Force Base — which has a fascinating history that includes three years as the initial site of the U.S. Air Force Academy in the 1950s — Wings Over the Rockies has a fantastic collection of military as well as general aviation aircraft.
While visiting some friends who live near the museum in the Lowry neighborhood of Denver, I had the chance to tour this beautiful facility housed in what used to be a Lowry AFB hangar. While I only had a couple of hours to visit, you could easily spend the entire day at the museum picking your way through the numerous exhibits. If you ever find yourself in the Denver area, you owe it to yourself to stop by Wings Over the Rockies. As an EAA member, you won’t have to spend a dime on admission (if you live more than 90 miles away from Denver) as the museum is part of the ASTC Travel Passport Program that all EAA members have access to.
Until you have the chance to visit in person, here’s a quick walkthrough of some of the highlights of the museum.
B-52 Stratofortress (Gate Guard)
Before you even step foot in the museum, a massive B-52 Stratofortress serves as a welcome to all visitors. Built in 1955, the museum’s RB-52B was delivered to Lowry Technical Center at Lowry AFB as a trainer. In 1994, the museum took possession of it. I’ve had the chance to see B-52s in person on a couple occasions, both at AirVenture and at other museums. Even so, its sheer size is impressive every time you come across one.
When you enter the hangar, the first aircraft you see is this impressive and somewhat rare EA-6B Prowler, the electronic warfare version of the A-6 Intruder. The museum’s Prowler is on loan from the National Naval Aviation Museum.
Positioned right next to the EA-6B is one of its carrier brethren, an F-14 Tomcat. The Tomcat is of course one of the more famous fighter jets ever built and imagining this behemoth launching from a carrier and dogfighting a MiG is almost unbelievable. Wings Over the Rockies’ F-14 primarily served as a training and evaluation aircraft for VF-211 on board the USS John C. Stennis.
Past the F-14 is one of the fastest aircraft ever mass-produced — the F-111 Aardvark. This Vietnam-era variable-sweep, supersonic strike-bomber could fly two-and-a-half times the speed of sound. Just an amazingly cool aircraft.
There’s no denying that the museum’s B-1A, one of only four A-models ever built, dominates the hangar. This huge bomber, commonly referred to as the “Bone,” is almost 150 feet long and towers over everything, standing about 34 feet high. While the B-1B is impressive in its own right (anyone at AirVenture 2017 or 2018 knows that firsthand), the B-1A could go faster than Mach 2. Thinking about an aircraft of that size going that fast — crazy.
A-7 Corsair II
Directly across the hangar from the EA-6B when you enter is another carrier-based, Vietnam War-era aircraft: the LTV A-7 Corsair II. While not the sleekest looking specimen, the A-7 was certainly effective as an attack aircraft and served for many years in numerous air forces.
F-4 Phantom II
Arguably the most famous U.S. fighter to come out of Vietnam is the F-4. With more than 5,000 produced, “The Lead Sled” was used by the both the U.S. Navy and Air Force during the conflict. Although it had its faults as a dogfighter, the F-4 served the U.S. well for many years in multiple roles. The museum’s F-4, located to the right of the A-7, was used as a trainer at Lowry Air Force Base and is currently on loan from the U.S. Air Force.
Complementing the F-4 is the other aircraft synonymous with Vietnam — the UH-1 Huey helicopter. The museum’s Huey is located next to its F-4 and is nicknamed Sweet Sioux. The aircraft is a UH-1M gunship and was manufactured in 1967. It served two tours in Vietnam from 1967-69 and engaged in battle to support ground troops and performed rescue and extractions, as well as routine escort missions. Later, the helicopter served with the Nebraska Army National Guard for 25 years. It was completely restored in 2008.
Century Series fighters
While all five of these aircraft deserve a segment apiece, for brevity’s sake I’ve combined the museum’s Century Series fighters into one paragraph. With an F-100D Super Sabre, F-101B Voodoo, F-102A Delta Dagger, F-104C Starfighter, and F-105D Thunderchief in its possession, the Wings Over the Rockies Museum has almost the entire collection — missing only the F-106 Delta Dart. These 1950s-era fighters signaled the start of true supersonic flight in the U.S. Air Force and are not to be missed.
The reconnaissance version of the F-84F, the Thunderflash is an example of 1940s-era jet fighter technology. Although the F-84 doesn’t receive the kind of notoriety that its contemporary the F-86 does, it was a successful aircraft that had both straight-wing and swept-wing variants and played a large role in Korea in a variety of phases — though the RF-84 wasn’t introduced until after that conflict ended.
While the Sabre is of course most famous for its service in the Korean War, Wings Over the Rockies’ F-86H was produced following that conflict. The H-model was designed as a fighter-bomber hybrid, but was soon phased out of service as newer designs were developed. The museum’s Sabre began its career in 1955 at George Air Force Base before moving to various locations and spending most of its service at Suffolk County Air Force Base in New York.
Tucked in a corner is one of the few foreign-built aircraft at Wings Over the Rockies — a Soviet MiG-23. The 1960s-era MiG-23 (NATO reporting name: Flogger) is the most-produced variable-sweep fighter in history and while it’s not exactly a beautiful piece of machinery, is pretty neat to see up close.
One of the few World War II-era aircraft at the museum is the rare Douglas B-18 Bolo. Introduced in 1936, only about 350 of the medium bombers were built, with many destroyed in the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines in 1941.
Located next to the B-18, the military version of the Beech 18 is just as beautiful as a standard Twin Beech.
Somewhat hidden behind the B-1 is the museum’s Martin EB-57. The B-57 was the American-built, licensed version of the 1950s-era English Electric Canberra bomber. Although not a small aircraft by any means, when placed directly next to the “Bone”, it appears to be.
Among the other airplanes the museum has in its collection are a number of civilian experimental amateur-builts and vintage aircraft (including a J-3 Cub, BD-5 in Blue Angels scheme, Cessna O-2 Skymaster, Skyote, Velocity XL FG, Christen Eagle, etc.), a variety of sailplanes hanging from the ceiling, a selection of other uncommon aircraft (including an Adam Aircraft Industries M-309, Alouette III helicopter, Nieuport 28 biplane replica, Ball-Bartoe Jetwing, among others), space memorabilia (including an HL-20 Dream Chaser mock-up), and some Star Wars replicas (such as Anakin Skywalker’s “Podracer” and an X-Wing Starfighter).
This is far from the complete list of aircraft at the museum, so make sure to visit the Wings Over the Rockies website for more information. Or better yet, take a visit yourself!