Cradle of Aviation Museum
The Museum is housed in the Reckson Center, an impressive glass building near the site of Long Island's historic Mitchell Field. Just north of the Nassau Coliseum on Hempstead Turnpike, the Cradle of Aviation is part of Nassau County's Museum Row.
Once inside, the atrium hosts an impressive array of aircraft both old and new, like this Blue Angel Grumman F-11. The entrance features an automatic door option for handicapped access and easy passage with a stroller. There is also a gift shop, two sets of restrooms, and the Red Planet Cafe -- a dining area with a Mars theme. There is hot food and an assortment of vending machines available. The food available for purchase is pretty disappointing -- warmed over pizza and packaged sandwiches. But there is a good selection of beverages and the atmosphere is neat. We recommend bringing lunch or a snack, as the food options on nearby Hempstead Turnpike aren't great either.
The entrance to the exhibits is on the second floor and takes you through a cool starfield to get onto the main floor. At the other side, you find yourself at eye-level with many of the planes hanging on display. If you're traveling with a stroller, look for the back entrance to the left of the stairs. It lets you go in through the exit and simply walk through to the start of the exhibits. Multi-plane displays like the one above dominate the early period of the museum, where there is a lot of Long Island history.
The exhibits are dotted with hands-on displays that kids can't resist and explain different aspects of flight in an easy-to-understand way. The display above, for example, lets kids explore how the controls worked on a very early Wright Brothers aircraft. There are a number of cockpits where the vast panels of dials and controls are enough to captivate young imaginations. Other displays show how wing angles effect airflow, how a jet engine works, and how to control a motorized helicopter.
After passing through early flight and the jet age, the museum concludes with a series of displays about the space age. Again, Long Island's contributions are a highlight. The lunar module pictured above was built here by the Gumman Corporation and there are many artifacts from the Apollo space program. If your children are old enough and have some interest, be sure to seek out one of the many volunteers working the museum floor. Many of them built and flew the aircraft on display and are very knowledgeable (and most like to spin a good tale).
Outside of the exhibit hall and next to the Red Planet Cafe you'll find the Junior Jet Club, a play area for kids ages two to six. Here they have a complete Jay-Jay the Jetplane table set up as well as coloring stations, a dress-up area, small cockpits and a passenger jet seating area. There are enough toys around to keep a sky-happy kid entertained for a least a half hour (and a few chairs comfortable enough to give a parent a breather). Some of the toys have gotten pretty beat up, and the tendencies of some younger kids to put everything in their mouths will give germaphobes a shudder, but the kids have a great time.
For the older kids, there is a Mars flight simulator, a 747 flight simulator and a G-Force Encounter that simulates the flight of an F-18 Hornet. There is also an IMAX theater, which shows classic IMAX films in the morning and Hollywood films in the afternoon. All of the rides are at an additional cost. The IMAX theater is an impressive place to watch a movie, although it may be too loud for younger children.
The Cradle of Aviation Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. They are open on holiday Mondays as well. If you'd like to avoid the school bus crowds, it's best to get there after 2:00 p.m. when you'll have the place mostly to yourself. Admission for adults is $9.00, children are $8.00.
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