I visited Tucson’s Pima Air and Space Museum this morning. Here I am in front of one the new exhibits, which I’ll get to in a moment.
I was a volunteer docent and tour guide at PASM for nine years, quitting just two weeks before the Coronavirus pandemic forced it to shut it doors in March 2020. It reopened in September 2020 with a skeleton staff, no volunteers, and reduced hours. Things stayed that way through at least September 2021, when I last visited PASM. Now I’m happy to say the museum is returning to normal.
A new normal, that is, with a smaller staff, fewer docents to answer questions, barely any tours, shortened hours, and fewer visitors — but the place is hopping compared to the ghost town it was during the pandemic!
Yes, that’s a volunteer docent you see in the middle of the scrum, delivering a ten-minute talk on the SR-71 Blackbird. It’s good to see volunteers working with the public again after such a long hiatus. Tram tours of the outdoor exhibits are also back on offer (just two a day, vice the six we offered in my day). Still no Boneyard tours, though, and it looks like the USAF has decided it’ll stay that way.
But you want to know if there’s anything new on display. I’m happy to tell you the answer’s yes.
This is super cool: a Piper PA-48 Enforcer, a privately-funded close air support/counterinsurgency aircraft marketed to the USAF and allied air forces in the 1970s. No one ordered it, and only four were built. Its WWII-era P-51 Mustang lineage is obvious, but it was almost totally a new and different aircraft, sharing only a few parts with the original Mustang. It was powered by a Rolls-Royce turbine, and that exhaust is one of the most impressive sights I’ve seen (I mean, if turboprops hung out in locker rooms together, this one would never hide behind a towel).
There were maybe twice that many cars in the lot when I left at 10:30 AM. As I said at the beginning, the museum’s in its “new normal” mode: fewer volunteers, fewer tours, fewer visitors. If you’re still trying to maintain social distancing, you’ll have no problem at PASM (I’m happy to report I even saw a few visitors wearing masks today).
Click on the photos to see them bigger on Flickr. As always, I took more photos today than I’ve shared in this post. Click here to see them all!
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