The Air Zoo

My sons (Oliver and Charlie) and nieces (Claudia and Nola) at the Air Zoo in Portage, Michigan.

While the interests of my young sons and nieces brought me to the Air Zoo: Aerospace and Science Experience in Portage, Michigan, those with ties to aviation in their family history might also be drawn to this museum. Founded in the late seventies by Suzanne (a former member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots) and Pete Parish (a former United States Marine), the Air Zoo boasts more than 50 fixed and rotary wing aircraft on display as well as aviation-themed rides and exhibits. The Air Zoo is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, and has a mission to preserve the legacy of flight for present and future generations.

After spending an amazing day at the Air Zoo (which included puzzling over the position of a pilot in the Wright Flyer, gazing through a replica of Galileo’s telescope at digital Jupiter and its moons, and staring up in awe at the SR-71B Blackbird spy plane), we told the children we could go on one more ride before we left. As I rode around in the backseat of the Flying Circus Bi-Plane Ride, I spotted the entrance to the Air Zoo library and grew curious. I followed up with the Air Zoo to learn more.

While exploring, I noticed that they have an archive as well.

The Air Zoo library is open for all visitors to enjoy. It contains aviation books and a variety of history books relating to wars from World War I to the present. Members of the Air Zoo may check books out of the library, but the eventual goal is for all visitors to be able to do so, too.

Oliver, hanging on.

While exploring, I noticed that they have an archive as well. Collections and Exhibits Coordinator Christy Kincaid says the archive and large 3-D object collection consist of a variety of different documents and items. This includes military records, a World War II Guadalcanal collection, aircraft manuals, technical manuals, unit histories, built drawings of aircraft, photographs of (probably) every plane ever made, and a space-related collection, from the Apollo missions through the Space Shuttle age. One of Kincaid’s favorite collections dates back to the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. A sailor who served on the USS Curtiss was able to save several objects, including an ash tray that changed color due to the heat.

If you are interested in doing research at the Air Zoo’s archive, they request two to three weeks’ notice, if not more. This will allow them to search their stacks and pull the most appropriate materials for you. There is a small research fee of $20, and copies of documents cost $0.25 each.

Kincaid says they are currently reorganizing and rehousing the collection. They are also deep in the process of cataloging the archive and hoping to have it online over the next few years. This is sure to be a useful resource for researchers in the future.

Cécile Engeln

About Cécile Engeln

Cécile joined NEHGS with nearly ten years of editorial and project management experience in academic publishing. She has developed a variety of books, ranging from a guide to U.S. citizenship to graphic novels, and managed the production of complex foreign language programs. She graduated with a B.A. in English Literature and a minor in French from Andrews University in Michigan. She received her M.A. in Publishing and Writing from Emerson College.View all posts by Cécile Engeln