Today I visited Pima Air & Space Museum for the first time since quitting as a volunteer docent in early February. My departure predated the museum’s COVID-19 pandemic closure by a week or two; PASM remained closed until late July, when it reopened with limited hours and reduced services.
My primary purpose in visiting today was to see and photograph PASM’s Ilyushin IL-2 Shturmovik, an exceedingly rare aircraft which had been in various stages of restoration the entire nine years I worked there. It is now, finally, on display to the public.
The Soviet Union built more than 36,000 Il-2s during WWII; only a handful survive today — fewer than 10, in fact, so it’s not a warbird you’re going to see at just any old air museum. Click here to see my Flickr album of Il-2 Shturmovik photos, which includes several taken during the years it was being restored by museum volunteers.
While there this morning I took a few shots of PASM’s freshly repainted Convair F-102 Delta Dagger, the USAF’s first supersonic interceptor, a jet my Cold War predecessors once flew at Soesterberg in the Netherlands and Elmendorf in Alaska, two of my favorite F-15 Eagle postings. In case you can’t tell it’s a delta, check out the shadows underneath:
I also have a Flickr album for the Deuce; this one includes historical photos of the jet’s development and the two-seat TF-102 trainer version (also on display at PASM).
Just for old time’s sake I revisited the restoration yard, where I see they’re still working on Balls Three, the B-52A mothership to the X-15 rocket plane. Will it wind up being in restoration as long as the Shturmovik? I don’t know, but it’s going on five years now.
If you hate crowds but love old airplanes, there’s no better time to visit an air museum than during a pandemic. PASM’s no exception — you’ll have the place to yourself. This was the scene in visitor parking when I arrived this morning:
Once inside, I couldn’t help noticing a total absence of volunteers. I knew tram and Boneyard tours have been suspended for the duration; I hadn’t realized hangar docents had been sent packing as well. There’s no one there to answer visitor questions, which is a shame, but there are still placards and handout maps, and with those you can learn on your own. Bring bottled water; the snack bar is closed. Social distancing won’t be a problem: I saw just five other visitors this morning, all at a distance. Masks are required, of course, and I wore mine:
Honestly, I have to wonder how the museum manages to stay open during the pandemic. PASM must have gotten some infusion of cash, either through donors or an emergency PPP loan. The only museum personnel in evidence today were two paid staffers manning admissions and the gift store; even back in restoration the only workers I saw were the paid maintenance guys … if there are still volunteers working there, they’re staying out of sight.
Grim times for Pima Air & Space, evidently, but a great time for visitors, especially early in the morning before it gets hot.