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Feature Article 1


Matt Debski, Aircraft Owner and CFI, WVFC, 

For years I'd driven down 101 past the flashing sign of the Hiller Aviation Museum. Although I claim to be interested in all things aviation related and have traveled across the country several times to Oshkosh, I'd never taken the time to visit. A few years ago I moved to Belmont, almost across the street from the Museum, and finally visited. The museum is definitely worth a visit. If you have kids, you should consider becoming a member! The museum is one of those great places where children and adults can enjoy themselves, with experiences designed for both age groups.

For adults, Hiller has enough exhibits to easily occupy a few hours. As you enter the main exhibit space, there's a large airship that looks like a da Vinci drawing come to life. There are several displays of early airplanes, including a flight simulator of the Wright brothers' Flyer. Stanley Hiller, the museum's founder, was a pioneer of helicopter design. There's an entire wall dedicated to several of his helicopter designs. There's also a helicopter simulator inside one of the helicopters on display. The center of the museum also includes a few examples of gyrocopters.

The main floor is dominated by a Grumman Albatross (the subject of one of my previous newsletter articles), which sits next to L39 Albatross. Both of these planes are great fun to visit on Open Cockpit Day. These occur about every other month. The Albatrosses and other aircraft cockpits are open for visitors to sit in and get a closer look. These are good photo opportunities as well. Next to the Albatross is a wall of dozens of model aircraft including those from early flight, familiar general aviation airplanes, and plenty of commercial aircraft. The rear corner of the museum also features a free flight simulator with limited motion and an example of a very early flight simulator. Finally, there is a wall with several types of aircraft engines, including cutaways of both a turbine and four-cycle engine demonstrating how each works.

The second-floor mezzanine overlooks the main floor and also gives a better view of the aircraft hanging from the ceiling. There are some Burt Rutan planes as well as an example of an early drone or UAV. On the weekend, this becomes the Sim Zone, with PCs setup and volunteers on hand to teach prospective aviators how to fly the Sims. A few dollars gets you thirty minutes in the simulator...quite a bargain.

Outside the museum building is the forward fuselage of a 747. It includes the stairs to the upper-deck and the cockpit. The cockpit of the 747 is always open to sit in the pilot, copilot, or flight engineer seats. The outside also features a small observation deck for watching airplanes doing pattern work for Surf Air coming and going.

In addition to its slowly updating static displays, the museum really shines with it's special events. Major holidays usually include an aviation-involved activity of one of the major characters: Santa arrives by helicopter to a room filled with a community orchestra, a leprechaun parachutes to the taxiway, the Easter bunny does a fly-by in a helicopter, and a witch drops a pumpkin onto the taxiway, previously signed by attendees of the haunted hangar. There's also a Hops and Props beer festival, featuring a wide variety of microbrews. All of the holiday events are included in the price of normal admission.

In addition to holiday events, there are frequently other exhibits on display. Presumably figuring that people interested in aviation love all forms of transportation, there are special model train exhibits throughout the year. These displays fill the museum's large atrium and are worth visiting independent of the aviation museum (if you're into model trains). There's also a model airplane air show, which I regretfully have missed the past few years.

All in all, the Hiller Aviation Museum makes a great place to visit on a day when your lesson is rained out, you feel like exploring a new Bay Area attraction, or you want to treat your kids to a new aspect of your hobby.