The Tennessee Museum of Aviation is a great museum near Pigeon Forge that you should visit if you have any interest in aviation or have seen your fair share of cheeky attractions in and around Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. The Tennessee Museum of Aviation costs $12.50 (far adults) to get in, has awesome historical displays all about aviation and a HUGE hangar full of older military planes you get to explore after you go through the more traditional historical displays.
The folks that work/volunteer there are really nice. If you get there late (say within an hour of closing) and don’t have time to get through the entire museum you might be able to get a ticket to return the following day without having to pay the admission fee again. In order to go through the entire museum see and digest all the different displays between 1.5 and 3 hours should do the trick depending on how many photos you want to take and how many displays you choose to read.
As soon as you get your ticket and walk into the Aviation Museum you’ll see a collection of pictures of historical aircraft on the walls on your way into the exhibit area. The first set of exhibits you will come across is a row of flight uniforms from different eras. The displays include flight uniforms from WW I, WW II, Vietnam and women in WW II as well as others. From these displays you’ll be able to get a feet for the evolution of military flight uniforms from different wars in which the US was involved over the years. The uniforms are very well detailed and feature information about each posted next to the respective display cases.
Another cool display is a model of an experimental airplane known as the Lee Richards Monoplane. The name comes from the last names of two gentleman who teamed up to produce the plane. One (Richards) had the know-how to develop the plane while the other one (Lee) had the cash to have the plane built. It looks unique in that it has an annular wing with an area of 400 sq ft and a wing span of 22ft. This particular aircraft was used as both a powered and unpowered glider. The case displays a small model of this plane as well as a couple other model airplanes.
As you continue along through the museum you will come across more displays of uniforms, medals, paintings and lots of information about the history of war-time aviation. Displays include anything from weapons, uniforms and bomber jackets from Nazi Germany to similar items used by the US military. Old books, warship models used for educational purposes, flying guides and regulations are also presented along the way. There are a number of video screens along the way that provide more information about select exhibits in the first part of the museum as well. Be sure to stop and watch them if you have the time!
Though the first part of the museum is PACKED with information and exhibits the area where the displays are located is not all that large. You might get to the end of it where the restrooms are located and think there should be more to it. Well, there is! A lot more! The next section of the museum you will go through is a HUGE hangar full of historical war-time airplanes, airplane engines and even a few military vehicles. There are gliders, helicopters, fighter jets and utility/transport aircraft used by the military. You can get up close to see the aircraft here and even see in the cockpits of a few of them but cannot climb in or on them.
One of the more recognizable aircraft in the hangar (to 80’s television fans, anyway) is the Bell 222 military helicopter. Jan-Michael Vincent was the pilot of the chopper in the show that ran for 55 episodes on CBS, 24 episodes on the USA Network and was also turned into a motion picture. The series and the name of the attack chopper in the show was of course, Airwolf. While the original Bell 222 used in the show was later used as an ambulance helicopter in Germany where it crashed during a thunderstorm on June 6, 1992 another Bell 222 is on display at the Tennessee Aviation Museum!
Another aircraft you will see (and get a great view of since it hangs from the ceiling!) is the “Frenesi”, a P-51 413 318. The plane was flown by Lt. Col Thomas L. Hayes during World War II. Planes like the model on display were flown in the South Pacific where Hayes battled Japanese Zeros and shot down a couple of them. Hayes later shot down 8 Germans during 85 missions and led the first raid of Berlin during the war. Below the plane on display you will find more information about the model on display and its uses and effectiveness during the war.
Yet another impressive aircraft on display at the Tennessee Museum of Aviation is an aircraft actually used in the Vietnam War. The “Seabat” aircraft is a UH-34G, no. 140136 that was used in US Navy Service. The plane was used between January 25, 1956 and September 23, 1969. Throughout its war service it was used in an anti-submarine squadron, modified to be a utility helicopter and between 1967 and 1969 the actual aircraft on display saw extensive use in Vietnam. Bullet holes are still present in the fuselage and fragments of those bullets were found during the restoration process.
In contrast to the high tech fighter planes and attack helicopters on display there is also a model glider on display in the hangar of the Tennessee Museum of Aviation. It represents a glider from 1902. Along with the glider on display is a an outline of the history of the development of the glider, the problems encountered and how each was solved and the aircraft modified to get closer to producing an aircraft that would provide a better, more stable flight. The aircraft highlighter here represent only a small sample of the aircraft on display at the Tennessee Museum of Aviation.
Once you’ve walked through the standard museum and the hangar you will come to a gift shop with logo clothing, toys, trinkets and books related to aviation. When you are in the Gatlinburg of Pigeon Forge the Tennessee Museum of Aviation is an excellent place to spend a few hours of your day. At $12.50 the admission price is less than many of the other less impressive attractions in the area. If you have anything more than a passive interest in aviation or even military history be sure to schedule some time to visit this great attraction near Pigeon Forge!