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Sat, Feb 14, 2004

New Aviation and Aeronautics Museum Prepares for Takeoff

Just Don't Feed The Animals

The Air Zoo in Kalamazoo (MI) will pay tribute to the history of flight in May with the opening of an interactive aviation museum. The new Air Zoo will feature more than 80 vintage aircraft, character actors in the roles of famous aviators, amusement rides, Smithsonian exhibitions and 4-D theaters, which combine 3-D filmmaking with other special effects.

The new 120,000-square-foot facility, which nearly doubles the space of the current campus, will allow the Air Zoo to educate visitors about aviation through hands-on, multi-sensory experiences.

"The new Air Zoo doesn’t just teach people about history, it surrounds them with it," says Bob Ellis, executive director of the Air Zoo. "For example, through interactive storytelling, historical re-enactors will share the adventures of the inspiring heroes of aviation history."

The new Air Zoo will feature the largest known indoor mural. Equivalent to three football fields in length, "Century of Flight" is the creation of renowned aviation artist Rick Herter. The 25,000-square-foot, hand-painted mural depicts major moments in aviation history from the first hot air balloon ride to journeys into space.

Another highlight is the Air Zoo’s 4-D theater presentation, "Missions, Salute to Heroes®," which tells the compelling story of young airmen flying deep into the heart of World War II Germany in 1943. Visitors will experience startling in-theater effects such as shaking seats and simulated anti-aircraft fire.

The Air Zoo also features a collection of thousands of artifacts and more than 80 vintage aircraft, including a rare SR-71B Blackbird spy plane, which holds the record for speed and altitude.

"There will always be something new to see," Ellis says. "Because of our partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, the Air Zoo has access to over 142 million artifacts and an endless source of world-famous traveling exhibitions."

The first exhibition sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution is "Hubble Space Telescope: New Views of the Universe." The exhibition allows visitors to learn about the telescope’s history, design and purpose, as well as gain a greater understanding of planets, stars, galaxies and intergalactic space.

"We’re excited to see the folks at the Air Zoo turn their dream into a reality," says Aaron Glavas, affiliations coordinator for the Smithsonian Institution. "The new Air Zoo will give people a dramatic, first-hand look at the fascinating world of aviation and aeronautics."

The opening of the new Air Zoo is likely to make Kalamazoo, and the state of Michigan, a destination spot for thousands of tourists. The Air Zoo predicts the museum will draw 300,000 visitors annually.

"The Air Zoo is going to have an immediate impact on the local economy through jobs, visitor spending and admission," predicts George Erickcek, senior regional analyst, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. "If the Air Zoo draws 300,000 visitors annually to the area, we estimate that wages and salaries in Kalamazoo County will increase by $9.9 million, and the facility will generate 360 jobs, including the Air Zoo's current staff of 50."



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