Why Families Love the Air Zoo: New Exhibits, Membership Perks, & Hands-On, Interactive Fun

Air Zoo

Experience a Local Kalamazoo Treasure at the Air Zoo

Air Zoo
6151 Portage Road, Portage, MI 49002

As a Kalamazoo transplant, I have come to appreciate the places, food, and culture that are uniquely Kalamazoo: a pizza from Bilbo’s, handwritten receipts from Little Chick Shoe Shop, and a walk down the painted blocks of Bates Avenue are all things you will not find elsewhere.

Among that list of local favorites is the Air Zoo: a Smithsonian-affiliated aerospace and science museum.

With over 100 air and spacecraft, educational programming, and exhibits updated regularly, it’s easy to be impressed.

Why Families love the Air Zoo - Membership, events, exhibits - overview of Air Zoo
Main Exhibit Room at the Air Zoo in Portage, MI

However, the Air Zoo is more than just a museum full of artifacts: it’s a welcoming, family-friendly space that encourages children to learn through hands-on experiments and develop a love of science.

It’s a place where toddlers can run, strollers can roll, and big kids can fly (simulated flight, that is).

After just one visit with my children, our family was hooked and we were planning our return.

It was not long after that we bought a family membership.

Years later, my kids request museum visits regularly, attend Air Zoo Summer Camps and other special events.

We’re Open! Plan Your Air Zoo Visit

While COVID-19 threw us all a collective curveball in 2020, rest assured that the Air Zoo is very much up and running.

This engaging museum invites families 360+ days a year to imagine, discover and explore in their massive, interactive space.

The indoor rides and full-motion simulators are not available yet- but don’t let that dissuade you from visiting ASAP. With new exhibits, hands-on interactive displays, and tons of aircraft and spacecraft, the kids won’t be bored.

Ready to visit and don’t know where to start? The Air Zoo spans two buildings and has plenty to see. 

We’ve outlined an itinerary of must-sees during your stay.

Air Zoo Day Trip Itinerary

The Flight Innovation Center

Start your day here. After checking in and getting your wristbands, it’s time to take your walk through the clouds.

If you need to shed any unnecessary layers, stop by the lockers (small fee to rent).

Air Zoo Lobby Entrance

Once inside you’ll find two things: planes as far as the eye can see and some very friendly volunteers (take them up on their free tours if you have time).

The main area of the Flight Innovation Center is massive; feel free to browse all of the aircraft and exhibits. A couple of our favorites include the following:

  • Learn Hands-On: Learn through play with interactive exhibits located throughout the Air Zoo. These fun activities teach physics, engineering, and other science disciplines.
Air Zoo Hands On
Can You Float the Balls with Bernoulli’s Principle?
  • Get Lost in Space: More than just planes can fly. The Air Zoo also features a number of exhibits dedicated to space travel, featuring spacecraft, equipment and astronaut suits. Make sure to see how astronauts can sleep in zero gravity!
Spaceships Air Zoo

Once you’ve finished exploring the Flight Innovation Center, it’s time to check out the other building at the Air Zoo.

Tip: If you’re visiting Thursday – Sunday, we recommend a quick stop at the Kitty Hawk Cafe upstairs for some tasty food from the Millennium Group (get the cookies). There are also picnic tables outside to stop and refuel.

Once outside, it’s only a short walk to the Flight Discovery Center (or you can move your car; there are parking lots for both buildings).

Flight Discovery Center

Previously known as “East Campus,” the Flight Discovery Center provides another showcase for aircraft. Take a stroll through all of the exhibits here, including ones being put back together!

That’s right: the big highlight here is the aircraft restoration.

Airplane Restoration Air Zoo
Don’t Skip the Second Building at the Air Zoo!

They restore planes here too?

The skilled team at the Air Zoo has staff and volunteers that are world-renowned in their restoration abilities.

Their current work includes two WWII aircraft recovered from the bottom of Lake Michigan, and their newest arrival – an F-117 Nighthawk – one of the first to be exhibited in a non-governmental museum and a fan favorite (trust us- it’s HUGE!).

F-117 Nighthawk, nicknamed Shaba

Visitors are encouraged to talk to the team and ask questions while you watch their efforts to reconstruct these aircraft to their original beauty.

Many of these volunteers are veterans, and all of them are friendly and bursting with aeronautical knowledge.

Flight Discovery Center

Wrapping Up your Visit

Head back to the Flight Innovation Center and revisit some favorites before you head home. My kids usually require return trips to a few favorite exhibits before we can depart (we recommend launching some water bottles).

Air Zoo Hands On

The Fly Buy Gift Shop

After you leave the clouds, make a stop at the lockers for your belongings and be sure to browse The Fly Buy for souvenirs (we love the winged tigers).

Short on time? You can shop online when you return home too.

Pro Tips for Navigating the Air Zoo
– The Air Zoo considers guest safety and health a top priority. See their policies and admission requirements here.
– Bathrooms have changing tables and a nursing room is available upstairs (ask a staff member to unlock it).
– Have a wagon or stroller? Bring them! If you forgot yours, you can rent a wagon.
– Skip the line and purchase tickets online.

The Air Zoo’s ever-changing landscape is great for families. You and the kids can visit again and again and still find new things to do and see.

Families can enjoy these engaging exhibits at no additional cost; all of these are included with your admission.

Coming Soon: Be the Astronaut

Insider Intel: The Air Zoo has a new traveling exhibit headed its way and it’s AMAZING. Be The Astronaut will join the Air Zoo for a limited time and is PACKED with hands-on, interactive fun for the entire family.

This new exhibit is scheduled to join the Air Zoo from May 26 – September 5, 2021.

Air Zoo Traveling Exhibit
Note: Exhibit promotional photo captured prior to COVID-19 pandemic

Women in Air & Space

The Air Zoo honors the women of aviation and space through multiple exhibits in both the Flight Discovery and Innovation Centers. Families will learn about aeronautical pioneers and modern day record breakers.

These exhibits feature stories, images, videos, and activities that help illustrate the major impacts made by these extraordinary women.

Amelia Earhart

Explore Amelia: Adventurous Aviatrix in the Flight Innovation center to learn about the brave, bold woman who broke through barriers to make history in the sky. Amelia was the first woman (and second person) to pilot an aircraft across the Atlantic. Learn about her ultimate dream to fly around the world and the unsolved mystery that followed her journey.

A recreated historic scene—which depicts Amelia giving flying tips to pint-size pilots—provides the centerpiece to this exhibit in the round.

Rosie the Riveter

In We Did It: The Riveting Real Rosies of WWII, the Air Zoo introduces some of the women who filled defense plant positions in the 1940s. Visitors will see an authentic rivet gun, rivet manual, and paystub on loan from Yankee Air Museum, which sits on the former site of the Willow Run plant where women manufactured one B-24 bomber an hour.

You can also watch video interviews from the children of real Rosies and take a photo with their “We Can Do It!” poster cutout. 

Air Zoo
Snap a Photo as Rosie!

Other Can’t-Miss Exhibits

Alien Worlds & Androids: Explore nine different environments featuring space and technology. This exhibit includes some famous droids from Star Wars, Ironman, and robots from The Terminator Movies.

Apollo 11: Relieve the historic event from 1969 with this exhibit, complete with a vintage living room prepped to watch the moon landing on a console tv.

Why You Need an Air Zoo Membership

Air Zoo Memberships are the Way to Go

Something we quickly discovered with our inaugural trip to the Air Zoo: one visit is not enough. Our departure only left us planning our return to see more exhibits and revisit favorites.

A family membership allows you to visit as often as you like for an entire year; it also comes with discounts and perks.

Discounts + Perks

Membership Highlights
– 10% or more off purchases in the Fly Buy Museum store
– Local business discounts (hotels, restaurants, entertainment)
Reciprocal admission benefits at over 1200 ASTC and NARM museums and science centers worldwide, as well as 30 day reciprocals among local partners certain times of the year
– Invitations to VIP events including sneak previews of new exhibits
– Subscription to monthly e-newsletter
– Checkout privileges at the Air Zoo library
– Presale opportunities and discounts on seasonal camps
Smith Library Air Zoo
Explore the Children’s Corner in the Smith Library at the Air Zoo.

Southwest Michigan Cultural Exchange

The annual Southwest Michigan Cultural Exchange provides free admission to 5 other participating cultural institutions. Your Air Zoo membership card becomes your free ticket to places like Binder Park Zoo for a full month!

Annual Membership Perk: SW MI Cultural Exchange
– Show your Air Zoo membership card and gain FREE admission to Binder Park Zoo, Kalamazoo Nature Center, Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Gilmore Car Museum, and W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary/ W.K. Kellogg Manor House.
– Free admission lasts an entire month
– In 2021, this program will run from October 1 – 31


SW Michigan Cultural Exchange

October 1 – 31, 2021

Classes & Enrichment

The Air Zoo is taking on the challenges of the 2020-2021 school year and providing innovative and immersive education opportunities for your family.

Whether you are a traditional home school parent or a parent supporting virtual education at home, the Air Zoo has you covered. They are also continuing their partnership with scouting groups.

Education @Home

[email protected] offers LIVE virtual programming for all children. These programs provide dynamic and interactive lessons, ignite imaginations, and fulfill Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for only $6/child during the school year.

All programs are hands-on and many include kits for kids to keep. Scholarships are available and can be found at airzoo.org/scholarships.

Air Zoo Virtual Learning Lab

Scouting Groups

The Air Zoo loves working with Cub Scouts, Scouts BSA, and Girl Scouts each year. Earn Air Zoo fun badges and complete requirements needed for one or more Elective Adventure Loops, Webelo Adventure Pins, or Merit Badges. Stay tuned for 2021-2022 events for scouts!

Science Floor Shows

Families visiting the Air Zoo on weekends are in for a treat with Science Floor Shows. Offered twice on Saturdays and once on Sundays, these 30-minute live shows will captivate parents and kids alike with science demonstrations.

Science Floor Shows are included as part of your admission and therefore do not require any additional fee to attend.

Find them near the SR-71 Blackbird at 11AM or 2PM on Saturdays, and 2PM on Sundays.

Air Zoo

Launchpad to Learning

The Air Zoo’s Launchpad to Learning offers a library of short videos. These are designed to ignite imaginations through science experiments, artifact tours and tons of other educational projects and activities online, including how to build your own baking soda bottle rocket!

The Fly Buy Gift Shop

The Fly Buy Store is a great place to shop after concluding a visit to the Air Zoo. And when you’re home and could use some cool Air Zoo gear, you can now shop with them online!

Visit airzoostore.org to explore a variety of unique Air Zoo merchandise, toys and STEAM activities for all ages.

Follow The Fly Buy Museum Store on Facebook for updates and exciting new products.

Toys at the Air Zoo Gift Shop
The Fly Buy Shop is stocked with engaging, STEAM-based activities

The Air Zoo is a world-class, Smithsonian-affiliated museum in our own backyard.

Make plans to visit soon for an amazing experience that your family won’t soon forget!

Partner Info

Air Zoo 800x500

6151 Portage Road
Portage, MI 49002

FACEBOOK | (269) 382-6555

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