Flying Tiger at Air Zoo in Pure Michigan

Amy Eckert, contributing writer for Michigan Travel Ideas, heads to Portage to check out the newly expanded Air Zoo. With airplanes called “Wildcat,” “Hellcat” and “Flying Tiger,” she discovers where the aviation museum got the “zoo” in its name.

With the addition of the East Wing, the new and improved Air Zoo now features more than 50 rare and historic aircraft; the Midwest’s first 4-D theatre; eight flight-themed amusement park-style and flight simulator rides; 170,000 square feet of exhibit space (a 120,000-square-foot Main Campus building and the new 50,000-square-foot East Wing addition); an expanded exhibit about women in space and aviation, including some interesting WASP displays; and a 28,800-square-foot mural titled “Century of Flight” tracing aviation history from hot air balloons to space travel.

The main exhibition floor can be a bit overwhelming. For first-time visitors, I recommend asking a docent or volunteer, some are WWII veterans for a tour. These guides wear nametags and hang out near the front next to a sign that reads, “Free tours.” Seeing the old planes and reading the placards are interesting enough, but taking advantage of these tours really elevates the experience to a whole new level. The main exhibition includes four distinct areas: Beginnings (some of the world’s earliest airplanes), Missions (World War I and II planes), Sentinels at Sea (aircraft that are designed to take off and land on aircraft carriers) and Journeys Beyond (a reconnaissance plane).

In the back of the main exhibit hall you’ll find the entrance to the East Wing of the Air Zoo which begins with the new exhibit “Space: Dare to Dream.” Some of the displays are a bit text-heavy like the inspiring quotes from people like Isaac Newton, TS Eliot, William Jennings Bryan and even Walt Disney (obviously, some were more dreamers than scientists or aviators).

Other “Dare to Dream” displays are more interactive, including those that trace the origins of heavenly exploration with a Mayan astronomical calendar, Galileo’s observations of the night sky and the Apollo space program. There’s a cool prototype lunar rover, a replica command module (the pod that astronauts used to plummet back to Earth and into the ocean at the end of their space voyage), a replica space shuttle and some interactive reproductions of astronaut training equipment.

Beyond the space section is another large room filled with WWII-era aircraft. I’m told that many of these aircraft are quite rare: Hellcats, Bearcats, Wildcats and Flying Tigers. These planes have been beautifully and lovingly restored and many are just beautifully designed, like the Corsair with the red-and-white checkerboard nose, the boxy, olive-drab WWII glider and the Skyraider with its fold-up wings.

The month of February is Open Cockpit Month, when visitors can jump into the pilot’s seat in three of the museum’s planes (including the Skyraider). The experience is included in the purchase of general admission—$8. For more information, visit www.airzoo.org.

Amy Eckert is a freelance travel writer who lives in Holland. Publications she has contributed to include Michigan Travel Ideas, Sky West Magazine and both Frommer’s and Michelin guidebooks.

From our Community: What’s your Favorite Place in Michigan to get Comfort Food?

As temperatures drop, it’s the perfect time of year to cozy up with friends and family and enjoy your favorite comfort foods. From the mac and cheese at the Clarkston Union Bar & Kitchen to the chicken at Zehnder’s or Bavarian Inn in Frankenmuth, there are plenty of places to indulge in your favorite comfort dishes across the state – including a few hidden gems.

We got some great responses over the weekend when we asked fans on our Facebook page: “What’s your favorite place in Michigan to get comfort food?” Here are some comments we wanted to share. Thanks to everyone who responded!

xochimilcos in Mexican town in Detroit.” – Alex Gurne

“Chicken Jalapeno soup at Art’s in Glen Arbor!” – Aline Levanen Gauss

“The best breakfast comfort food is at Suomi’s, in Houghton, way up in da UP. Traditional Finnish breakfast and regular breakfast foods. All. SO. GOOD.” – Olivia Zajac

RUB BBQ across from Comerica park has the best Mac n Cheese hands down.” – Jesse Cahill

Clarkston Union has awesome (gourmet) mac n cheese.” – Patrick Fetterman

“Mac and cheese from Blue Tractor in Traverse City. ♥ it!!” – Chelsea Lyn

Grand Rapids: Hopcat – Killer Mac n Cheese. Tip: add bacon and jalapenos, mmmm!” – Kevin Littlepage

“The Hilltop in L’anse. Cinnamon rolls the size of your head.” – Robert Bruce Brevitz

Central City Tap House in downtown Kalamazoo serves mac & cheese with pork belly. Can’t think of a more perfect combination! Plus vast scotch whisky menu and craft beers.” – Karel Juhl

Slow’s BBQ in Corktown, and the Mac ‘n Cheese at Zingermans Deli in A2 (Ann Arbor) can’t be beat. It’s divine!” – Colleen Smith Adkins

“Besides my own kitchen, DeLuca’s in Lansing.” – Lucy Dionise Platte

Fieldstone Grille in Portage…they have the best pot roast sandwhich!” – Jennifer Zindler

“At home; my husbands meatloaf. It must be why God made cows! And Zehnder’s in Frankenmuth for CHICKEN !!! YAY!!!” – Sarahlynn E Kelly